The NZ Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently passed a ruling saying it was not a misrepresentation for McDonalds, Wendy’s et al to market their food products in the best possible light (i.e. looking totally scrumptious and filled with goodness) but then to actually deliver meals that are at best a pale representation of the advertised items. In fact, anyone who’s been served a particularly thin and feeble looking burger from one of the fast food chains could be forgiven for wondering if they were even on the same planet as the one with all the bright pictures of yummy looking food on the digital signage behind the counter.
According to the ASA, as long as the food products are well made, then the chains are perfectly entitled to show them in the aforementioned “best light” in their adverts. Apparently a massive discrepancy in appearance between the advert and the actual product isn’t at all misleading. Theoretically, a burger is a burger is a burger and one that looks terrific will taste exactly the same as the imitation in the brown packet that makes its way over the counter. However, speaking as something of a foodie (or even someone with an iota of common sense), it seems obvious that the fresh burger in the ads, which is filled with a succulent patty and topped with crispy lettuce, tangy red onion and a thick slice of ripe, juicy tomato, not to mention lashings of sauce has to taste better than one that’s flat and shrivelled with tiny portions of veggies that look like they came over on a sailing ship in 1879.
Strikes me that regardless of what the ASA says, the consumer is still being taken for something of a ride here. Look at it this way, if the fast food chains can get away with this kind of lark, then surely a car manufacturer is entitled to display a beautiful luxury sedan shining in its gloss finish in the autumn sunlight, yet offer the consumer the same vehicle in a dull matt finish? Obviously no punter would fall for that nonsense, and yes I acknowledge that I’m reaching a bit but the principle is the same – the car is still well made and none the worse off for its drab looks, so why not show it in its “best light” and save some money by not actually having to put on the gloss finish?
Consumers wouldn’t accept clothes that didn’t match what was advertised, or furniture or holiday accommodation or hundreds of other products and services for that matter, so why is it okay to throw them some average looking food that simply doesn’t taste or look as good as it should and could? When confronted with the vast differences between reality and marketing, the fast food chains often default to the “that’s not how our food usually looks and we’ll be working with that store to improve their products” but please, give me a break. The vast difference is a fact.
The chains argue that they take hours to set up the photo shoots and to style the products but aim to deliver food in minutes or seconds – well maybe they should just take a little more care? Surely there’s a balance between speed, profit margins and delivering what you promised? At the very least, the ASA should insist on something approaching parity between the advertising and the end result.