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11 Ways Advertisers Make Food Look Delicious

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Advertised foods rarely look exactly like the real food they’re selling. In fact, a number of sites around the web have pointed out just how false food advertising can be. The truth is, the delicious-looking culinary concoctions we see in print ads and television commercials would be anything but appetizing if they were on your plate. Many times it wouldn’t even be fair to identify them as food. They’re more like a terrifying Frankenstein-like type of quasi sustenance commonly made up of a partially cooked food and a carefully created combination of interesting additives. For example...

1. Glue

Real milk tends to make breakfast cereal soggy and rather unappetizing in pretty short order. You know what doesn’t do that? White glue. Yogurt or shampoo have also been known to do the trick.

2. Sponges, Cotton Balls & Tampons

It’s important for hot foods to look hot. The way to do that is to show steam billowing off. Instead of stopping every few shots to nuke the staged food, photographers will often soak one of these items in water, microwave it, and skillfully hide it in the shot.

3. A Blow Torch, a Branding Iron & Some Shoe Polish

Most of the time, meat products aren’t actually cooked because cooking can cause them to shrink and dry out. So items like steak and hamburgers are carefully seared with a blowtorch. Afterwards, grill marks are added with a branding iron and, as a finishing touch, some shoe polish or varnish may be applied to provide a nice, succulent color.

4. Cardboard & Toothpicks

Even if you could get past the taste of the leather shoe polish described above, a photography-ready hamburger would be unpleasant to deal with, as they are typically loaded with sheets of cardboard for support and toothpicks or pins that have been strategically placed to keep lettuce, onion, and the rest of the package in their specifically staged place.

5. Motor Oil & Some Fabric Protector

A nice big stack of flapjacks can be a thing of beauty. The only problem is those breakfast staples are quite porous – so the syrup just seeps right in. Photographers solve that issue by coating them with a healthy layer of aerosol fabric protector. And, because maple syrup doesn’t always look great on camera, they might turn to motor oil as a stand-in.

6. Hairspray & Spray-On Deodorant

That ripe, delicious bunch of grapes you see in that ad have that matte look to them because they’re coated in a healthy amount of one of these grocery store spray can staples.

7. Glycerin

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

If you’ve ever drizzled a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, only to watch all of the delicious topping slide and fall off the ice cream, you'll understand this trick. Photographers cut out little amorphous pieces of paper towel, lay them over the top of the ice cream, then cover the paper towel with the syrup. Apparently it does a bang up job holding the syrup in place.

9. The Food That Makes Other Foods Look Good

The MVP of the food staging world is the mashed potato. Whipped spuds are used for all sorts of aesthetic purposes. They’re loaded into syringes and then injected straight into meat to plump up specific parts of a turkey or roast. They’re dyed different colors and used to play the role of ice cream. And they’re baked into pies to provide a sturdy interior that won’t fall to pieces when a slice is taken out.

10. Antacid & Soap Bubbles

Soda doesn’t look so crisp and refreshing without an overabundance of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning and bubbling. Dish soap can be used for creating larger surface bubbles.

11. Tweezers

How specific do the details of food photography get? It’s not uncommon for a hamburger bun to be methodically covered with sesame seeds by a person with tweezers, glue, and an incredible amount of patience. Tweezers are also useful in assembling Asian and Italian noodle-based dishes - with the placement, shape, and curvature of each noodle being dissected, assessed, and set carefully in place. Just like you do it at home, right?

[Via Food Portfolio, Photopoly, Consumer Reports]

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John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
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#TBT
The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu

Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

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Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
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Why Lucky the Leprechaun Was Missing From Some Lucky Charms Boxes in 1975
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Sarah Mahala Photography & Makeup Artistry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

It’s hard to picture a box of Lucky Charms without a smiling leprechaun plastered on the front of it. But cereal fans living in New England in the 1970s may remember a brief period when Lucky was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a forgetful wizard who was barely given a chance to make a blip in cereal mascot history.

As Atlas Obscura shared in a recent story, Waldo the Wizard became the face of Lucky Charms in select stores in 1975. At that point, Lucky had been representing the brand since it was introduced over a decade earlier, but General Mills was toying with going in a different direction with the marketing.

Lucky’s shtick hasn’t changed much since Lucky Charms was introduced in 1964: In commercials, the leprechaun is enjoying his treasured cereal when a group of hungry kids comes along. Instead of offering to share, Lucky plots to keep his Lucky Charms to himself and always fails. It’s not exactly controversial as far as kids' ads go, but in the mid-1970s, executives worried that the mascot's unfriendly attitude towards children would rub consumers the wrong way.

Enter Waldo: a wizard who wore a green cloak spangled with hearts, stars, clovers, and moons, and, like Lucky, adored Lucky Charms. But unlike Lucky, Waldo was always warm with kids and never hesitated to share his breakfast. Instead of running away, his gag was that he was always forgetting where he put his box of Lucky Charms, to which the kids responded by reminding him that he could just conjure some up with magic.

Shoppers responded positively to Waldo during his trial run in New England stores, but after less than a year, General Mills pulled the plug on the experiment. It turned out that having a slightly more innocuous character wasn’t worth abandoning the original mascot after spending so much time and money promoting him.

While he’s undergone a few redesigns in the past 50 years, Lucky is still prominently displayed on every box of Lucky Charms. His cereal-hoarding tendencies have also remained the same, though Lucky was written to be a bit friendlier following Waldo’s short-lived era.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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