Ads vs Reality - Detail - Taco Bell - © Signs com

Ads vs. Reality: UPDATE

We’ve looked at this issue before, but, now, a non-food company has commissioned a formal study comparing consumers’ reactions to Fast Food ads and their reactions to similarly-staged photos of the real menu item. The divergence between some ad pix and real-product photos is astounding…

Ads vs Reality - Taco Bell - © Signs.comA sample ‘report card’ from the Fast Food survey report.
If they had asked me, I wouldn’t have given the real-life
Taco even two stars for resemblance to the ad. is an online source for signs and other coordinated advertising media from vehicle wrappers to post cards. It’s natural that a company like Signs would be concerned – and intrigued – by differences between products as shown in sexy ad pictures and photos of the real thing.

What they did… set up pairs of photos, staged similarly, comparing ad depictions of various menu items from 20 chains with the real products. Then, they asked 559 Fast Food lovers which they preferred, based on appearance, perceived taste, perceived quality, and how much they would pay for each item.

They also asked survey subjects to rate the resemblance between the ad pictures and the photos of the real thing.

What they found…

On the resemblance scale, subjects rated Chipotle’s highest, at 4.5 stars (out of 5), and Burger King lowest, at just 1.5 stars. Ratings for the other 18 chains fell everywhere in between, on a more or less smooth scale.

On the preference scale, 92 percent of those asked said they preferred the ad picture of Burger King’s Whopper, while only 8 percent preferred the product depicted in the real photo.On the other end of the scale, subjects said they preferred the real picture of Domino’s Two-Topping Pan Pizza 64 percent to 36 percent over the ad photo. Kudos to them, along with Papa John’s Pizza (56 percent in favour of the real product photo), and Chick-Fil-A, which split subjects 50-50 on its ad pix vs. its real product photo.

My take…

While Burger King tanked dramatically on the disparity in perceived quality and appeal between its ad picture a the real product, other major chains also rated low on that score. I suspect that the more popular (and busy) a Fast Food outlet is, the less care staff will take in preparing the food. That’s just natural in an environment where speedy service is emphasized above all else. It’s a minor miracle that all the ingredients actually find their way to the bun, in whatever order, during rush times.

And let’s not forget the other human factors… I remember visiting a Sandwich shop outlet (no names, here, to protect myself from lawsuits and the like) where their profit-conscious boss had ordered his staff to ignore head office rules for preparing the menu items, cutting the number of Pickle slices from the mandated 3 to 2, and using only 1 slice of Cheese where two were officially called for. I’ve also been served Burgers and Sandwiches which featured only one Tomato slice where two were called for, or a mere wisp of shredded Lettuce where a handful was customary. The list goes on and on.

I’d like to see a restaurant-by-restaurant comparison of the same real product as served by multiple outlets of each band. I’ll bet the differences between outlets are as wide-ranging as the differences between the ads and the real thing for each brand…

And don’t miss the slide show of what the Fast Food ads they featured in their survey would look like with the real product rather than the studio-primped ad photo. (Scroll down to bottom of page.)

~ Maggie J.