Thursday, December 22, 2011

False Advertising in the Fast Food Industry - A Picture is Worth 1000 Calories

This article is reposted from Dario D's "Aphaila" website. We have all been disappointed with the squashed bundle of garbage that comes through the drivethru window. Here's another reason to stop eating it. This is some fascinating stuff! Thanks to Dario for all the hard work that went into this article and thanks for letting me repost. -Mike

False advertising 101.
So, I went to some fast food places (I won’t say “restaurants”, just “places”), and picked up burgers and tacos, so I could compare them with the ads. (I’m always on the hunt for little projects like this. Stoked.) I brought the food home, tossed it into my photography studio, and did ad-style shoots, with pictures of the official ads on my computer next to me, so I could match the lighting and angles.
People around the world know fast food as one of the most reliable distributors of disappointment ever produced by the business world. We know that if we ever feel the need to complain about something, we can just grab a page out of a coupon booklet, adorned in pictures of juicy burgers, go to a fast food place, then have a party. Why, the places themselves usually plaster their walls with pictures of juicy burgers – often hanging right over your table – so that you need only open your eyes to find something to compare your food with, while you eat it.
Needless to say, the results of my little project were unsurprising… which shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Rules:
1 – I only care about size. I certainly don’t need my lettuce arranged like the crown on Caesar’s head.
2 – I have to show the most attractive sides of the food, with lighting identical to the ads.

taco bell, taco, crunchy, fast, food, advertising, hell
The taco on the right is my life experience with Taco Bell. (best of two tacos that I bought)
Once upon a time, occasionally dropping in to Taco Bell was something I did, and I always held this grudge: I said, “If you have a company called TACO Bell… and you have this item on your menu called “Crunchy Taco” – you know, like your flagship item – let us hope that it doesn’t look like THIS.” (seriously… we’ve got 3 ingredients in here: lettuce, “meat”, and cheese)
Since these tacos are pretty dry (and devoid of ingredients), I can only tolerate them with hotsauce, which, for me, is when they become good. Still, they’re no match for the Nacho Tacos at Carl’s Jr. or Hardees (same place, two names), of which I got to try the chicken ones recently. Those cost a tad more (somewhere around $1.50), but are only sold at the locations with “The Green Burrito” inside. (it’s like a little Taco Bell inside the Carl’s Jr./Hardees…)

fast, food, advertising, jack in the box, jitb, tacos, two, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography
(the tacos come in 2)
I picked these up at a location not half an hour from Jack In The Box’s corporate headquarters. Since I’m showing the largest tacos I could get, I can’t show you how they like to seal themselves shut, like a clam, so that you can’t even see inside. The cheese acts as a perfect glue at the edges… I swear, if you had to use one as a snorkel, to save your life, you would die.
They taste a lot better than they look, but that’s because I don’t actually think they’re tacos; they’re just tragically mishaped and misrepresented nacho pockets (or something). Pitching them as tacos is a crime against humanity, because we humans have standards of what a taco should look like. And not seal itself shut like.
As much as I like to bash fast food, bear in mind that I’m not going to take the common route of saying that just because I’m against something, it can’t have ANY possible good sides, such as fast food actually tasting good. (I say this because it’s important to understand the difference between extremism and rationality, and many people reading this – those who know that this site is about moving against the failures of man, but I guess don’t yet know my style – might expect me to be extreme in my judgment of fast food… probably assuming I’d go to the point of crossing my arms, and saying, “What? Fast food tasting good? Puh! Why it’s… it’s disgusting!”)
It’s not disgusting. The human mind is a physical, matter-based part of your body, and, as such, it has fixed tastes that can’t easily be changed. My brain, for instance, has been programmed from the day I was born to accept western-world tastes, and that means, yes, I quite like the taste of fast food. (now, I could easily just leave out all positive mentions of taste, simply to keep from contributing anything helpful to fast food here, but I think making this point is more worth the effect.)
Taking this a little further, note that there are many things that the brain can’t pick-and-choose its acceptance of, no matter who you are. Anyone part of a religion, for example, WILL laugh at a funny enough joke that insults their figure-of-worship, even if they actually hate the joke so much that their skin starts to burn, and they feel the need to literally go out and kill somebody. You can laugh and hate at the same time. (the decision-making sectors of your brain are completely separate from the parts that perceive humor, and various other things… In this way, there are SEVERAL parts of your brain that act completely on their own, causing you to feel things that may be against what you believe. Fear is a good example of how this works: you never believe there’s a monster in the dark, but you still fear (and feel) its actual presence…)
So, most fast food may be worthless garbage – and buying it may give life to a parasitic institution that sucks away man’s longevity of life, health, and motivation to resist the failures of society – but if someone asks me, “But do you like fast food? I mean, does it taste good?” the answer is yeah.
I like how fast food tastes… I resent what it means… and I tell people that if the future of mankind means anything to them, don’t touch this stuff with a 20ft pole.
I think this is something people need to think about… what it means to be rational and balanced, not extreme. To be an extremists often means to be one-sided to the point of self-delusion, and, when the time comes to pitch your points – as extremists always feel the need – the unbending one-sidedness can make you look biased and desperate, reducing how much the other side feels they should consider what you’re saying.
I really do hate Whoppers, though:
fast, food, advertising, burger king, whopper, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality
Burger King has had this a long time coming. The Whopper I got the other night was a sight to behold; probably the ugliest Whopper I’ve ever seen in my life (though exactly the size I remembered them being). I’m certain it was just a collection of all the disappointment Burger King has ever served, manifest into a curse, which was now coming back to haunt them.
I had a childhood of eating these, but, back then, they were a buck… not $3.69 (they have the nerve to charge you extra for cheese).

Okay, let’s give Burger King one more chance here…
fast, food, advertising, burger king, whopper, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality
They need to fire the guy who does his yoga on top of the Whoppers.
…while I was at it, I caught sight of a gargantuan Whopper Jr. photo on the menu, and couldn’t resist:
fast, food, advertising, burger king, whopper, jr, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography

Before we continue, there’s something everyone should understand: burger size/presentation can certainly vary from location to location (just usually not that much). Example: once, when I was young, I went to a Burger King right next to the beach, and the Whopper I got was huge (comparatively), and had toasted buns! I never forgot that… though I later speculated it was probably because California is known for its great beach-side burger shops (REAL places), so, being next to the beach, this place had to compete.
MY nearest two locations, however, have issues. This is what I got when I asked them specifically for burgers as big as in the ads:
fast, food, false advertising, burger king, whopper, big, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, burger, studio, test
(the one in the middle has cheese. I forgot cheese on the one one the right.)
A fast food place can’t turn down a request for a burger the size of the ones in the ads (they can’t say, “I’m sorry, we aren’t able to make burgers that big.”)… so, I wanted to see if my nearest two locations would even honor the request. For both orders, I pointed specifically at the giant Whoppers on the menus right behind the cashiers (very politely), and the cashiers both turned and took strangely long, careful looks (as if nobody had ever made that request before).
Well… I like the pile of onions I got with the second one.
(Note: I’m sure you can find SOME location where they’ll at least TRY – it’s surely just a matter of getting the right people – but, considering that my first two tries were misfires, I wonder exactly what the ratio is between employees who will try, and ones who won’t…)
Back to price… things always get worse at McDonald$:

fast, food, advertising, mc donalds, big mac, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, burger, hamburger, studio
$4 now will get you one of these. ($3.99, to be exact, but that 99 is BS psychology that I think should be illegal.)
The size was actually pretty close to the ad. (though I’m still trying to determine the planetary origins of the lettuce I ended up with…)
fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, big mac, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography
(that’s actually a pickle in the upper right)
For those who don’t know, Big Macs come in a little box. Looking down into the box, and lifting the top bun, you ask yourself, “What is this empty, dry thing?” Apple fans know of Apple’s famous “unboxing experience” – when you open the gloriously friendly, won’t-destroy-your-hands packaging of an iPhone/iPad/iMac/etc – but, well, Big Macs are still working on theirs. (they should come with little pink, polka-dotted bow-ties on top, or little top-hats… and, given the price, they should be made out of real fur)
Big Macs taste really good, though, at least to me… even coming out of the fridge, the next day. In comparison, a leftover Whopper, coming out of the fridge like a mushy old sock from a trash bin, is a different story.
After a little thinking, I realized something. I thought, “You know, these Big Macs I got seem to fit in the boxes pretty snugly… as if the boxes were designed ONLY to house the actual Big Macs you get at the place. I wonder if the advertised ones would even fit…” So, I did a test:
fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, big mac, box, boxes, test, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography, burgers, hamburgers
My measurements are unscientific, but extremely carefully done, so I certainly hold my candle up to them.

fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, big n tasty, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography

Burnt Paper

Ah, one of the burgers performed! The burger I got might even look a little weightier than the ad.
I forgot to get the regular one, without cheese, but here you go. $4, by the way (or, without cheese, $3.79).
Looking at the burger I got gives me this weird feeling, though, like the ad should have looked like this:
fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, big n tasty, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography
This is another “served in a box” burger, but the one I got probably passes the box text.

fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, angus deluxe, third pounder, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography
Another $4 burger (mine was $4.29, plus tax)…
Well, I really liked the lettuce I got with this one. You’ll certainly never see a Whopper or Big Mac with that kind of lettuce. BUT WHERE’S THE MEAT?! It seems to be on a diet, whereas the ad burger meat was only missing a cowbell…
Flavor-wise, for me, it’s a pretty average burger. When trying to figure out what keeps these on the menu (for that price, at least), I think either some people out there really like them, or they sell as one-time-buys, intended for people who drop in late one night, and are deceived by the juicy picture… (and have a LOT of money).
This one also comes in a box (a wider, bigger box than the Big Mac), so, I had to test again:
fast, food, advertising, mcdonalds, angus deluxe, third pounder, actual, false, tiny, comparison, ads, vs, reality, studio, photography, burger
Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end, for McDonald’s… (even though all I really want is for them to make their burgers healthier, and stop their ridiculous advertising). What I think we learn from this is that these two burgers not only don’t look like the ads, but physically CAN’T, which is a minor problem.
I’m wondering if the other Third Pounder burgers don’t fit in the boxes, and, for that matter, if there are other ways to show that ad burgers can’t realistically be served at the fast food places, given their procedures. Examples I have in mind:
  1. Are some wrappers too small to be folded the way that employees are taught to fold, if carrying an ad-sized burger?
  2. Should you be able to call the “Third Pounders” that name if it’s only a third pound of meat while frozen, not when it’s served to you? (when buying meat, it makes sense to see the pre-cooked weight, because you mentally classify that differently… but, when you’re being served something off a menu, if they say you’re getting a “third pound” of meat, who actually realizes that you’re supposed to be getting less than that? When they say you’re getting a third pound of cheese, that’s what you’re getting… it’s not the cheese’s weight in milk)
  3. I’m fairly certain that many ad shots have all of the ingredients crammed up in the front. Is it legal to do this, if the human mind perceives that the thickness seen in front must be wrapping around the entire burger, equally? (and maybe it is, just with props holding up the buns in the back. Complete trickery.)
  4. Anything else? Please chime in here.
Don’t ask me how this advertising is legal. It seems that the law – at least in the US – is sometimes designed only to appease the God of Technicality, while insulting man’s ability to perceive and judge.
The law for this stuff should take into account things like the “innards-to-bun ratio”… (in other words, if the ads show 70% innards, 30% buns, the real thing can’t be 10% innards, 90% buns). Better yet, advertising should have to be able to stand up against an ordinary group of people, who can vote on whether or not something seems truthful to THEM. (It seems that today’s advertising may SOMEHOW please the God of Technicality – don’t ask me HOW – even though we people simply don’t subscribe to his technical glory).
Understand that there are several different types of correctness… and we’ll see if any are being met here. We have:
- Technical correctness
This is what is ACTUALLY correct, whether a person can perceive it or not. 99.99% of fast food locations will not serve you a burger that is technically as big as the ads, so there is virtually no technical correctness.
- Perceptual correctness This is what we ordinary people PERCEIVE to be correct. It’s most often the only form of correctness that has any meaning to us – unless we went to business school – whether something is technically correct or not. Fast food advertising is NEVER perceptually correct, in any way. 100% of the time, someone will look at a fast food ad and think it’s just a flat-out lie.
- Plausible correctness (or occasional correctness)
Plausible correctness would say that if even one fast food location COULD, in theory, serve you a burger the size of the ads, then, plausibly, the portrayal in the ads is correct, because there isn’t a natural force stopping a burger that you buy from turning out that big. (it can be argued that plausible correctness isn’t a presentable form of correctness at all, but rather just overemphasizing the possibility that, given infinite time, correctness can eventually occur.)
And there we have it.
I happily pitch the idea that lawmakers are committing a crime against us people by allowing us to be continually insulted by this advertising, and consequently this pursuit of mere plausible correctness, in defiance of human perception and feelings.

Studio Setup

photography studio, setup, nikon, flashes, sb600, d80, greenscreen
I used a greenscreen, a rotating chair, and three wireless flashes (often only firing two). My camera is a Nikon D80…
photography studio, setup, nikon, flashes, sb600, d80, greenscreen
This is what the original shots looked like…
(this is the Big Mac I got when I did the box test)
photography studio, setup, computer, triple screen, monitors
Behind me was this computer, where I had the ad shots on the screens…
jumbo jack, jack in the box, jitb, burger, photography studio, setup, nikon, flashes, sb600, d80, greenscreenjumbo jack, jack in the box, jitb, burger, photography studio, setup, nikon, flashes, sb600, d80, greenscreen
I also shot this Jack In The Box “Jumbo Jack” (their flagship burger – attractive angle on the left), but decided to only give limited attention to US-only fast food chains. (in fact, many parts of the US don’t even have Jack In The Box). I also wanted to cover Carl’s Jr. (aka Hardee’s) – the eternal gods of false advertising – but, when thinking globally, they’re just too little of a chain, so, it would waste the time of lots of readers.
In all cases, I gave the items as fair a chance as absolutely possible, though I didn’t take the time to buy multiples of everything, whether that would’ve been to choose the BEST stuff I could find, or pick out an average… though, you know, ALL of the Whoppers really are from Hell. I want to leave them, just so the Burger King people can enjoy a little, what, maybe disappointment?

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