How far should McDonald’s stretch reality?

As part of an ongoing PR campaign to increase the transparency of its operation, McDonalds has answered a question that almost all of us will have asked ourselves at one time or another. “Why doesn’t my burger look like the plump, juicy one on the menu?”.

It’s a brave move but I couldn’t help but wince as McDonald’s Canadian Marketing Director takes us through the process of food styling during a photoshoot to compare how a restaurant-bought Quarter-Pounder compared with one subjected to several hours of styling, lighting and post-production touch-ups.

OK, so they got through some key messages; that the burger and all ingredients are the same, that the box your burger comes in creates steam that can cause your bun to contract and go limp, that they want to style the picture in a way that shows the ingredients rather than have them hidden under the bun.

However, it still begs the question, “is what we see on a McDonald’s menu a true representation of the meal we are about to consume?” I can’t think of any other product that displays such a difference between the ‘pack-shot’ and the reality.

After all, there is no reason why my bought burger can’t look like the one on the menu. To McDonalds’ point, the ingredients are the same. The only variable is the prepartion time. In-store, burger preperation is a one-minute task. If McDonalds can’t produce a burger to the same quality as the pack-shot, in the time it gives its staff to prepare food, then surely the products on-sale, and the products on display in the advertising are two completely different items?

The sad reality is that most consumers are aware of this. This isn’t, afterall, a tactic employeed only by McDonalds. Almost all fast-food chains use food styling in this way, so on one level I think McDonalds deserves some credit for answering the question.

But ultimately isn’t it all about expectation? Isn’t the consumer building a perceived expectation of the McDonalds experience through the imagery that he sees in advertising, in-store etc? Can that expectation ever be beaten when the visual reality always falls short?

NB – for the record, I am not a food snob. I know it’s fashionable to slam fast-food chains but I love a quarter pounder with cheese as much as the next guy!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. You’re thinking waaaay too hard about your quarter pounder Tim… just eat the damn thing and enjoy it!

  2. tim deluca-smith says:

    haha! I wrote this at 10am and have been thinking about quarterpounders all day.

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