Advertising – Part II: Trick ‘r Treats

FOOD—one of the basics of life that also plays a special role in celebrations, feasts, relationships, and events such as Halloween, where without the treats there’d be no tricks.

Oxford Dictionary says that the word ‘food’ comes from the Old English, ‘fōda’ which is related to ‘fodder’, or that which is fed to domestic animals. Is the food we see in advertisements perhaps more akin to fodder? Would we feed such food to domesticated animals?

A picture is worth a thousand words, so we’re told and obviously believe because we’re spending our money on things advertisers are especially tricky about with respect to food. Why? Because they know we need to eat to survive, and they know that we need to buy food to eat. Good-looking food means good-looking profits! For consumers, it may well be that we’re spending beyond our need and/or income.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Take the humble apple, for example—luscious, nutritious, readily available, affordable, and raw or cooked, a great snack any time of day! It’s so popular that it rose from its humble status to become the gift of choice for teachers before holding even greater iconic stance as the logo for a leading computer company.

The apple has, however, lost its position as the most popular fruit. According to Nielsen Perishables that tracks sales of fresh fruit at grocery stores by dollars and volume, the apple struggles to hold its place behind berries. Struggling? Yes.

The iconic apple has held political sway. Europe has banned the import of American Apples, finding them to have four times the allowed amount of DPA, a chemical that prevents apple rot while also believed to break down into carcinogens called nitrosamines.

In come the advertisers… Use a can of spray deodorant to make apples shiny and voila! We want to buy apples. Those shiny little gems bring back memories of Mom showing me how to rub an apple against my clothes to polish it. Who knew I could have saved a lot of effort and just used a can of deodorant, or even hairspray, as some food stylists do?

Patty Cake, Patty Cake . . . Mother Goose (c. 1765)

Nothing like apple pancakes to start the day, yes? What about a stack of plain buttermilk

pancakes, the kind you get at restaurants specializing in breakfast menus? The butter melts over the hot stack while maple syrup drizzles over the butter before streaming down the sides of this delectable, creating a waterfall of lusciousness! We’ve all seen the ads…

… Except, food stylists apparently use motor oil instead of maple syrup because maple syrup is absorbed too quickly by the delectable cakes. And forget real butter—melts too quickly under the hot lights needed for filming/photos.

Pat-a-Burger

Burger patties are almost raw in advertising, being roasted for a few seconds only to stay large and juicy. Photographers color them with shoe polish and create grill marks with hot skewers.*

Under the Spotlight

Photographs require good lighting—nothing new said here. However, when it comes to photographing food, we expect pics to have a certain look, and advertisers expect us to buy what they’re selling. The multiple number of and sometimes very warm/hot lights used in photographing product can damage food presentations. Bring in the design experts…

…Who use water and glycerol to make photographed seafood look fresh and appetising. Liquid soap gives glorious froth to milk, coffee and beer. “Colored mashed potatoes or a paste of starch, icing sugar, corn syrup, fat, and other components” keep ice cream scoops from melting. White glue replaces milk in cereal ads. Antacids keep the fizz in sparkling drinks. Swapping shaving cream for ads that include whipped cream, or painting a chicken to make it look like it was cooked on a grill, then stuffing it with paper towels to plump it up, are just some of the things stylists do to keep food from dissolving under camera lights.

Do we bite?

Yes. Not only can we hardly wait to sink our teeth into the ‘real’ foods as presented in beautiful photos, but often purchasing these items, especially when done impulsively, can take a bite out of our wallets as well. Advertisers are hoping, planning, and predicting this to be so.

Recent data states that obesity continues to be on the rise. Might this be the result of too many pics of delectable ice cream, perfectly grilled hamburgers and chicken that bombard our minds and override our frontal lobes? Might those struggling with obesity have rights enough for a class-action suit against food advertisers?

Further, experts purport that personal debt has increased over the past decade. Too many impulsive purchases as a result of seductive advertising?

Stylists trick our treats into stunning representations, illusions of what might be, of unparalleled satisfaction, of perfection, into things the poor and rich alike can enjoy. Our economy flourishes, our quality of lifestyle seemingly improves, all while ingenuity prevails. Are the tricks in our treats really all that bad???

LINKS / REFERENCES