Creative Ways Advertisers Make Food Look Delicious

Shelli Goodner, GMS FACS

Advertising foods rarely look like the real thing!

In fact, they generally are NOT the real thing at all.  Advertised foods would not be very tasty if they were on your plate!

1.  GLUE

Real milk can make breakfast cereal soggy.  It also pours very quickly.  You know what doesn't?  Good old white Elmer's glue!  It's thick and pours slowly, allowing food advertising photographers to get that perfect shot!  

2.  Sponges and Cottonballs

Advertisers want hot food to look hot.  But reheating food for that perfect pick is not an option, as it would dry food out very quickly.  Instead, advertisers use cotton balls or sponges.  They soak them in water, nuke them to steaming, and then strategically place them in the shot!  

3.  Blow torches, branding irons, and shoe polish

Usually meat products aren't cooked at all because cooking can cause the meat to shrink and dry out.  So, ad photographers give them color by carefully searing the meat with a blowtorch.  Then they add grill marks with a branding iron.  Shoe polish is used to finish the meat, giving it a rich, juicy look!  

4.  Cardboard and toothpicks

Even if you could get past the raw, show polish covered burger, you couldn't eat it anyway.  Burgers are generally propped with toothpicks and layers of cardboard.  This allows for all of those beautiful ingredients to show in the pic, including ketchup, onions, lettuce and tomato!

5.  Motor oil and fabric protector

Everyone loves pancakes!  They are golden deliciousness!  However, they are also very porous, meaning they absorb syrup very quickly, becoming soggy-looking.  So, photographers will coat the pancakes with aerosol fabric protector.  Since syrup doesn't look fantastic on camera, they often use motor oil instead!  Yum!

6.  Hairspray and spray on deoderant

Spraying grapes with a good coat of hairspray or spray on deodorant will give grapes that beautiful matte, frosty look!  

7.  Glycerin

Glycerin is a neutral, sweet-tasting, colorless, thick liquid which freezes to a gummy paste.

If a product is cold or icy, you can bet the version in the TV commercial is covered in glycerin. The substance is used as a sort of catch-all on food shoots to provide gloss and sheen, or give the appearance of moisture on everything from a beer bottle to the leaves of a salad.

8.  Paper towels

We all know what happens when we pour syrup on our ice cream.  It slides right off to the bottom of the bowl.  So how do advertisers get syrup to stay in place?  The tear slips of paper towels, and place them on the ice cream (which is usually shortening, not ice cream.)  The paper towels are drizzled with the syrup, which holds it in place!

9.  Mashed potatoes

The best kept secret in the food staging world is mashed potatoes.  They are used for a variety of ad tricks, including being injected via syringe into meat like turkeys, chickens and roasts to plump it, or being baked into a pie to make the pie look fuller.  Sometimes ad photogs will use it instead of shortening, dying whipped potatoes to show for ice cream.

10.  Soap bubbles and antacids

Bubbles are actually used a lot in food ads.  Soda looks more refreshing with bubbles, coffee looks freshly poured with a few bubbles.  Ad photographers use antacids or dish soap to achieve this affect!