Fast Food Ads versus Reality: An Interview

Reality may bite, but that bite may not be as big as you expected. We are constantly bombarded by television ads for fast food chains that leave us with mouths watering and eyes wide. The promise of hot, tasty food in large quantities is a hard temptation to turn down. Sadly, the truth behind that delicious image usually doesn’t live up to the hype. One valiant photographer, Dario D., has chosen to challenge these contradictions of the senses head on. He set out on a small quest to compare the advertising images distributed by fast food providers with the products that are actually served in those notable establishments. Intrigued, we’ve posed a few questions that might shed a little light on this Quest for the Real Burger.

1. Would you consider yourself a fast food aficionado?
Heh, yes and no. I follow the business of fast food, and the thinking behind some of the food, but I’m really not a fan. I’ve learned a great deal about how the people who run fast food probably think, behind closed doors, so, I think I know quite a bit about why they do things the way they do.

2. Was there a specific trigger that inspired this greasy quest for the truth?
Yeah, I think I was at Jack In The Box, and was trying to figure out the tacos, and decided to blog them. At first, I was just going to post some pictures comparing them with the ads, but I really wanted to cover more wider-reaching issues, that readers from other countries would also understand, so, I decided I should focus more on fast food places that are worldwide, and make the project a lot bigger. I’m always looking for these types of thing to add to my project list, so, it was a really natural thing to do. I mean, I’ve had this life-long obsession with the way things like this are advertised, so, this has really been a long time coming, for me.

3. Did you take any steps to ensure that you got the best possible examples from the establishments you visited? (For example – telling them what you were up to…)
Well, for some of the things, I bought multiple, and used the best I could get. But my goal was more to find averages, and not necessarily get the best burger you could ever get. I wanted the people reading to recognize what they were seeing, and say, “Ah, that’s just like the burger I got.” At first, a few of the things were too lame, though, for some people to even believe – like the first Whopper I got, and the Jack In The Box Tacos – so, I decided to get better ones, just so that everybody wouldn’t say, “Hey, that thing looks fake. It looks like you chose the worst one you could possible get, and then jumped on it.” So, the feedback has been really good, but still, there’s always the one guy saying I sat on the burgers, and that he’s never seen a burger like that.

4. Was there a specific eatery you were more disappointed with than the others?
Most certainly Burger King. I was already expecting them to be the worst, and they didn’t fail to deliver.

5. Were there any where you really weren’t disappointed, or that actually lived up to the image they put forth?
Well, McDonald’s did a lot better than I thought they would. They had some of the biggest burgers I got. I think a lot of people have this perception that McDonald’s has really tiny food, because, when you see their value-menu stuff – those burgers with like a piece of meat and one ingredient inside – it’s kind of shocking, and I think that sticks in peoples’ minds. And the ad shots even show the tiny stuff without much exaggeration, because what can they do? You know, the regular hamburger has, like, a squirt of ketchup, and a pickle off in some corner, and the cheeseburger is the same thing, with a piece of cheese. But the Big Macs, at least, are usually pretty okay sized – way bigger than a Whopper – and I think I’m going to eventually add a Big N’ Tasty to the project, which I think is really big.

6. Precisely which planet was that Big Mac lettuce from, if you had to guess?
Hahaha… I have no idea. I think McDonald’s is still trying to figure it out.

7. The concept that fast food psychology is a sad reflection of the fate of mankind is pretty dismal.  Do you think there is hope for us yet?
I do. This may sound strange at first, but I think people really are a lot more ready for all kinds of changes than most people realize. The problem is, because of our psychology, we’re usually unwilling to do anything until the right cultural winds get blowing, or we get the right inputs, even if we’ve always believed that something needs to be done. Like, if you look at junk food in general, see, I think most people believe it’ll probably shave 10 years off their lives, and eventually give them health problems – and that one day, when they’re old, they’ll scream at themselves every day, because of what they did – but, still, they just don’t do anything about it. So, we can get things rolling with the right input, but it can be really tricky to come by, as you can see with how many social issues we still have in the world that people really should fix themselves, but don’t.

8. Has this quest inspired you to explore any other mediums? (such as fashion on models vs. real people)
Well, actually, it was my exploring other project ideas that helped me think of this one, when I got those tacos. I just decided to do this one first, so, the others are still on the way. I think I might do something on dog breeding next, but I’m not sure yet. The point there would be to show how some of the breeds that we buy make absolutely no physiological sense, so, I’d have pictures of dogs on one side, then pictures of what people would look like as those same breeds, on the other. Part of the message there would be that some breeds really are just crazy mutants, and, sometimes, it’s to a degree that we can’t even imagine.

9. Do you believe that real steps should be taken to hold these businesses accountable for false advertising?
Yeah. When a hundred out of a hundred people are completely appalled by this advertising, you know something is wrong. I think that somewhere along the line it’ll be outlawed, because, for instance, if you look 500 years into the future, do you really think the people then will still be dealing with this exact same thing? I think surely they would have outlawed it by then. So, I don’t think it’s a question of if this will change, just a question of when.

10. Just for fun, if you had to choose only one of the fast food places to eat at for the rest of your existence (which would probably be pretty short if you subsisted on fast food alone), which would it be?
Of the places I covered, probably Jack In The Box. Also because they have a huge variety of stuff, and they’re always trying these new things. I mean, if I had to eat every single meal somewhere, I’d want it to be someplace with a huge menu.

It should come as no surprise, in times such as these, that we find ourselves demanding to receive what we’ve been promised.  Why shouldn’t we?  Our money is precious and our hopes have been sorely tested.  We are the Land of Opportunity, and we demand that our economy be secure and our burgers be large and delicious. That’s why it’s America the Beautiful, people. And now, enjoy Dario’s work:


  1. by far, one of most relevant interviews based around advertising.. great example (fast food). I would love to see a comparison to something along the lines of fashion.. models vs everyday consumers. that would catch some attention 😀

  2. I went to a Burger King near Jackson Hole Wyoming once and the whopper actually looked -just- like the commercial. Both epic and unbelievable at the same time, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

    It brought me to the conclusion that the further from inner-city or urban areas you are, the more likely you are to experience a less-than-realistic whopper.

  3. Not sure which joints this photographer went to, but the ones I go to , the meal looks just like the menu pictures, fluffy buns and full taco shells and all… maybe even a bit overdone with the condiments.

    Seriously, if your order looks like junk, then demand to speak to someone or call and leave feedback. The place isn’t going to change if you accept less than quality.

  4. I’m pretty sure the advertisements aren’t actually designed to show what the food is supposed to look like.. they are an enlarged, exaggerated, fake picture that shows us what products are supposed to be inside the mystery package we are eating. I have never once looked at a taco bell commercial and thought that I would get a taco that looks remotely like the one in the commercials. Because the commercials don’t show you real tacos.. just a 3D physical map of the various layers of your “tacos”..

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