How They Make Fast Food Look So Good

Mmmm … that TV commercial makes you want to run out and get two all-beef patties loaded with the fixings on a sesame seed bun. But after a trip through the drive-thru, you realize your burger doesn’t look anything like the one in the commercial.

What’s up with that?

For starters, a burger photo shoot may take hours. The company’s ad department painstakingly arranges every pickle, melts the cheese and then carefully applies ketchup with a syringe.

Meanwhile, your burger was slapped together in 30 seconds by a teenager rushing to keep up with a drive-thru line that is running 10 cars deep. Of course your burger doesn’t look beautiful.

Another reason the food you see in photos may look better is that it could be cooked improperly.

Food stylist Ellie Stern says she prefers to use burgers that are undercooked in photos. That ensures a big, plump patty, whereas fully cooked burgers tend to shrink and look less appetizing.

Then, she carefully pins on the toppings so they stay exactly where placed. So eating one of Stern’s burgers could leave you contaminated with E. coli, not to mention experiencing a mouthful of pain.

Certainly, this type of not-quite-edible photography isn’t unique to the fast-food industry. Plenty of food photographers use unappetizing fill-ins, such as glue for milk, when the real thing doesn’t lend itself to long wait times and bright lights.

Finally, it’s safe to assume that practically every advertisement you see today has been digitally altered in some way. Just as models have had their arms slimmed and lips puffed, fast food has undergone a transformation before being released in an ad.

According to the video linked above, McDonald’s removes imperfections in the bun, adds color to the burger and even adjusts the location of the cheese.

Speaking of cheese, a slide presentation on the American Cheese Society website says “nearly every photo can use some retouching, though less is more.” That presentation is geared toward cheese makers and bloggers, and it also suggests that if more than 25 percent of an image needs to be changed, it might be best to find a new photo to use.

However, McDonald’s is mum in its video as to what percentage of its fast-food photos are touched up.

Is all of this a deception?

Here’s the real question lurking below the surface of this topic: Do fast-food photos amount to deceptive advertising?

McDonald’s Canada points out that the ingredients used for the photo-shoot burger are exactly the same as ingredients slapped together by the kid working the line at your local franchise. They’re simply arranged in a more appealing way.

It is similar to clothing: Even if you buy the same shirt worn by a chiseled model, it will never look the same on you.

Consumer Reports did its own exposé on fast-food fantasy photographs and contacted the Federal Trade Commission about the practice. According to Consumer Reports, “An FTC spokesperson says actions are unlikely in cases of inexpensive products that consumers can easily evaluate.”

In other words, you can walk into a local fast-food joint, see that everyone is eating burgers that look nothing like the ads, and choose to walk back out.

Do these fast-food tactics annoy you? Or is this just an expected part of advertising? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5

These products offer big value at a small price.

60% of People With This Disease Don’t Know They Have It
60% of People With This Disease Don’t Know They Have It

Millions of people overlook this potentially potent condition that tends to strike women and older adults.

These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over

Buy reusable versions of these household items, and you won’t have to spend another dime on them for years.

5 Common Medical Expenses That Medicare Won’t Pay For
5 Common Medical Expenses That Medicare Won’t Pay For

Don’t let these health care costs catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Surprising Things No One Tells You About Retirement
8 Surprising Things No One Tells You About Retirement

Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for — and adjust to — life in your golden years.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making
10 Useless Purchases You Need to Stop Making

You might as well flush your money down the loo if you spend it on these things.

7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now
7 Social Security Rules Everyone Should Know by Now

Confusion over Social Security is a shame, considering how many of us will need this money badly.

9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco
9 Shopping Mistakes to Avoid at Costco

Are you missing out on serious savings at your favorite warehouse club?

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

They don’t make coffee makers like this anymore.

The 16 Cars Most Likely to Last 200,000 Miles
The 16 Cars Most Likely to Last 200,000 Miles

One automaker takes half the spots on a list of the longest-lasting vehicles.

14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021
14 Things You Should Stop Buying in 2021

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

Is Writing a Check Still Safe?
Is Writing a Check Still Safe?

Every time you pay by check, you hand your bank account numbers to a stranger.

6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers
6 Ways to Protect Your Retirement Accounts From Hackers

Imagine having $245,000 stolen from your retirement account — and not being reimbursed.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.
This Is the Most Dependable Car Brand in the U.S.

This brand’s vehicles are least likely to give drivers repair headaches, according to J.D. Power.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know
7 Hidden Sections of Amazon Every Shopper Should Know

These little-known departments of Amazon are gold mines for deal-seekers and impulse shoppers alike.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.