Images versus reality: McDonald's Canada reveals why its food looks different in ads
In this age of transparency and accessibility (or at least the illusion of) abetted by the internet, people never seem to tire of learning about what goes on behind the scenes.
McDonald's Canada and Tribal DDB Toronto launched a section on its website where readers can post questions. The questions range from regional stuff like "Can you bring back poutine?" and "How come the McLobster isn't here in Ontario. But it sells in Nova Scotia?" to issues the company has frequently come under fire for like "Why do you put monosodium glutamate in your food…?" and "Why does it take unnaturally long for your food to spoil?"
(Needless to say, this move is probably to counter how the skewering of the fast-food chain has become an international sport. Remember Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me? Or the stupendous failure of the Twitter campaign #McDStories in January that transformed a hashtag into a bashtag?)
While the Canadian version of the fast-food chain responds to each question on its site, it also took the extra step of responding to a question from Isabel M. of Toronto who asked "Why does your food look different than what is in the store?"
Marketing director Hope Bagozzi takes viewers to a photo studio at Watt International to show people how burgers are prepared for photo shoots, and compares it to a burger she buys on camera from a McDonald's store.
While it might seem obvious how images are manipulated for advertising, it's clearly not to many people—the video has already had over three-million hits on YouTube.
There are a few somewhat interesting details about the reasons for the manipulation, including how the agency staff have to provide visual information on a one-dimensional plane (such as moving all the ingredients to the foreground) and how too much retouching can make the food look unappetizing.
Bagozzi also points out how the box the burgers are in trap steam in the container, thereby affecting the shape of the buns in real life compared to the advertised images.
Over the past few years, there have been numerous blogs and web articles comparing how food products measure up to their delectable-looking images in ads or on their packaging.
Back in 2008, the German website Pundo3000.com conducted a visual study of 100 food products to expose the gaping chasm between the mouthwatering, sexy photographs appearing on the packaging of the food and what the food actually looks like when the package is opened (which is often shockingly repulsive).
This is NSFVOFS (not safe for viewing on a full stomach).
Hopefully such examinations will increase pressure on companies and make them more accountable and responsible for the images that they produce.
(An issue inherent in the approach with the McDonald's video, however, is that the company explains what they are doing, and presents it as a necessity, rather than as something that they are capable of changing to make more aligned with reality. This is a much more complex problem that has to do with the nature of marketing advertising, and one that is rampant in industries such as fashion and beauty. Efforts to create change have had minimal impact but that hasn't stopped critics from continuing to expose the problems. Although a paradigm shift seems unfathomable, the McDonald's approach is a step towards addressing the issue, rather than hiding or denying it.)
McDonald's Canada has previously answered other questions posted on its site, including "Why is the food at McDonald's so cheap?"
The company did release a video in 2011 about the beef in its burgers. Unfortunately, it primarily consists of slick narration and a managing director mostly explaining, rather than showing, the process, and it comes off as if geared for a corporate audience.
But it's also in the midst of responding to the question "Does McDonald's use pink slime?"
New food and packaging solutions senior manager Nicole Zeni takes a customer to pick up frozen and cooked McNuggets to take to a lab, Maxxam Analytics, for analysis (including searching for bone particles).
Unfortunately, only part one has been posted. The samples have been left at the lab for analysis, and the results will be available in a few weeks.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.