Shocking Tricks Used In The Commercial Advertising Industry

Here are some shocking tricks used in the commercial advertising industry!


From mashed potato ice creams, to secret augmented reality cars, here are some of the shocking tricks used in the commercial advertising industry!

McFoolin’ You!

Founded by Richard and Maurice McDonald back in 1940, the burger joint has become a crowd favorite over the last 80 years. And while it’s estimated that over 69 million hungry customers flock to their restaurants every day, their burgers are somewhat notorious for being underwhelming when compared to what appears on their billboards.

But how exactly do they pamper their patties to the perfection seen in McDonald’s advertising campaigns?!

Well, in response to a customer who asked: “why does your food look so different in the advertisements?”, McDonald’s Canada released a show-all behind-the-scenes video to their YouTube channel in 2012, revealing how they get their Quarter Pounder looking like a million pounder.

McDonald’s burgers comparison

Shockingly, they use 100% of the same ingredients, just with a whole lot more finesse! While it might seem like McDonald’s are trying to sell us the idea of perfection, their main objective is to actually show all the ingredients inside, which means pulling forward those pickles and onions that are often hid under the hood.

And while that might sound like an easy operation, it actually requires the knowledge and expertise of a food stylist! There is a person whose job is to prepare and arrange food so that it’s as esthetically pleasing as possible, which at best, results in food that is quite unrealistic, and at worst, inedible!

Watch on YouTube

For the McDonald’s campaigns, once the ingredients are positioned, the food stylist takes a hot palette knife and melts that cheese into gooey perfection. Afterwards it’s time for some precision condiments, syringing the ketchup and mustard into shapely blobs.

Even with all this painstaking precision, the snaps of this burger are touched up to absolute mouth-watering perfection, as the image specialist subtly boosts the saturation of the ingredients, neatens their placement, and banishes any blemishes. The result is nothing like the product you actually get!

mcdonald's burger comparison

Though in their defense, this is a meticulous process which can take hours, as opposed to the rushed McDonald’s employee who haphazardly tosses it all together so that we can stuff our faces within two minutes of ordering.

While McDonald’s admittedly make their commercial burgers look a bit better than their real-life counterparts, there seems to be a slight discrepancy with their fries too. Sources suggest that fast-food joints allegedly enhance their advertised fries by propping them up with a sponge and toothpicks!

McDonald’s fries

And while it’s unconfirmed, I think we can all agree there’s some form of witchcraft at play here to get the perfect layout seen in promotional materials! Either way, whether it’s sponge and toothpicks, or something entirely different, it won’t stop us shoving 5 in at a time!

Ice, Ice, Maybe?

As hinted at by 90s rapper Vanilla Ice, it’s true that ice is, in fact, back with a brand-new invention, fake ice, that is! Turns out, real ice is rarely used in film and TV due to its famous melting qualities.

That, paired with its imperfect, cloudy white appearance, means it’s neither pretty nor durable enough to hit the big screen. One of the many benefits of the artificial ice used in film, TV and adverts is that it’s made from squidgy silicone rubber.

As you can see in the clip below shared by TikTok filmmaker David Ma, it breaks apart super easily, meaning food stylists have greater control over the size and shape of the ice.

View post on TikTok

Not only is it un-meltable and easily manipulated, but it’s silent too. This is especially important in movie situations, as the clinks and clanks of real ice can often interfere with the actor’s dialog.

Who’d have ever thought that such small details would make such huge differences. And that’s not even half of it. Movies and advertisements are always striving for hyper-realism, and with this ice not exactly being ice cold, food stylists have improvised yet another way to fake it.

In order to achieve a beverage that appears to be fresh out the fridge and dripping with condensation, food stylist load up a hypodermic needle with glycerin and tactically place their droplets.

View post on TikTok

Glycerin is basically indistinguishable from water and also holds its place for much longer, meaning photographers aren’t fighting against time and gravity to get the right shot.

After the glycerin has been positioned, food stylists spray a 1-to-1 mixture of water and glycerin all over the bottle, resulting in a room-temp drink that looks fresh out of the refrigerator. All that glitters isn’t gold, but all that’s dripping isn’t necessarily cold.


Thirst-traps, they’re everywhere. And no, I’m not referring to your ex-girlfriend’s Instagram. I’m referring to the bizarre beverages used in commercial advertising, where there are a few unexpected ingredients.

Let’s start with coffee, it’s a firm crowd favorite. And with reports suggesting that the global coffee market will be worth around $155 billion by the year 2026, it’s clear that we caffeine connoisseurs have money to burn. So how do retailers get us throwing cash for our next fix?

According to various sources, beverages in commercials are often pumped up with liquid-soap, to achieve huge frothy gains. This soapy additive helps maintain a fresh, frothier appearance much longer that the real stuff, meaning filmmakers have plenty of time to get just the right shot!

liquid soap in coffee

And that’s not the only way they keep this bubbly brew looking fresh. People often say that showbiz is all smoke and mirrors, but in the coffee-biz it’s all steam and tampons!

A common trick for food stylists is to take a wet tampon (un-used, of course) and whack it in the microwave, and place it in or behind the food or drink as way to replicate steam coming from the product when photographed.

tampon in coffee

So, try not to be put off by the fact that those sumptuous coffees you see on the big screen are likely to be cold, soapy, and served with a side of hot tampons. Well, that’s not how most people take their coffee, but there’s no judgments here.

It may come as a surprise, but advertised cold drinks aren’t without their deceptions either. Wine, for example, is arguably the most deceptive of all! Not only do production companies not want to spend big bucks on actual booze for adverts, but in the case of movies, they’d rather their actors not get drunk!

But never fear, the food stylists are here with their own special cocktails. Red wine for the lady? No. Try water with a little bit of food coloring instead. And chardonnay? Well, that again is just water, but with a few drops of ‘Kitchen Bouquet’.

kitchen bouquet

This product lends a golden hue, being composed of caramel and vegetable flavorings, and is more conventionally used for browning and seasoning meat. But if you’re in the market for a wine with meaty undertones, then this should do the trick!

Not Just Desserts

Most of the cake we see in the movies and commercials isn’t entirely genuine. Due to the fact that frosting melts, cakes eventually sink, and even more so under hot studio lights.

It’s for this reason that food stylists might fortify the cake by inserting layers of cardboard between the tiers, as to avoid a seeping, hot mess of melted frosting. And once the cardboard is placed, they’ll simply mask over it with another layer of frosting, as if nothing ever happened.

cake slice

Even trusty melted chocolate is among the offenders. In an interview, New York based food stylist Emma Feigenbaum revealed that instead of actual melted chocolate, stylists tend to opt for a concoction of the cleaning product Borax, PVA glue, and food coloring, which is the recipe for homemade slime!

But what’s the reason for this slimy imposter? Well, unlike chocolate, slime neither melts nor hardens nearly as quick, and can easily be workshopped to achieve the desired look. These sneaky food stylists really are a slimy bunch, aren’t they?

glue replacement chocolate sauce advertisements

Also joining the gang of trick or treats is whipped cream. According to food stylists, real whipped cream is rarely used due to the fact that it ages into a runny, stinky mess real quick. So, quite often they prefer to use whipped cream’s evil twin, shaving foam.

Due to its glossy white appearance and long-lasting structure, shaving foam is the perfect substitute for whipped cream and certainly looks just as irresistible!

Thumbnail6 copy

Ice cream is also a deceptive dessert. It melts in less-than-convenient situations, which makes it very hard to photograph. So, to avoid this sticky situation, food stylists instead use mashed potatoes!

With just a few drops of food coloring, food stylists can transform potatoes into pudding. Why the spuds though? Well, it’s simple really. Mashed potato has a similar consistency, it’s easily colored, and if needs be, can be eaten.

mash potato ice cream replacement advertisements


We live in a society where simply polishing the food to perfection is not enough. If food commercials are anything to go by, we’d prefer to see it sprung and sprayed through the air, like some kind of fireworks display.

Steve Giralt is a veteran taco tosser, but ‘visual engineer’ is probably what you’ll find on his résumé. Steve and his production company, the Garage, build extraordinary robot mechanisms, which they use to create popping, dropping, and truly show-stopping visuals!

In an interview, Steve revealed his favorite creation is, what he calls, the Deconstructed Burger Rig, and it’s one I’m you may already have seen used in ads.

View post on TikTok

As you can see, each individual ingredient is suspended on a piece of string, which is edited out in post-production. Then, by a rapid guillotine mechanism, the strings are slashed, allowing gravity to take care of the rest.

The Starbucks Method

The Starbucks incessant need to spell our names wrong has ignited an online conspiracy that it might just be intentional.

The theory is that Starbucks cashiers occasionally spell customers’ names in a completely absurd way, so as to get them sharing the hilarious faux pas with friends, family, and social media, resulting in more exposure for Starbucks.

Well, Starbucks actually responded to these allegations and pleaded not guilty; representatives claim that their name-taking tradition is a completely innocent and fun way for their employees to interact with customers, suggesting that there really is no ulterior motive.

View post on Twitter

But regardless of whether or not names are spelled incorrectly on purpose, the sense of bespoke personalization and ownership that comes from a named Starbucks beverage is undoubtedly a winning formula.

It keeps customers feeling happy and connected with the product, while giving the massive corporation a contrastingly small-scale, personal feel; very likely increasing customer loyalty in the long run.

The chances are that if your Starbucks cashier gets your name wrong, it’s probably not some conspiracy, but rather they either didn’t hear you properly, or just don’t care whether you’re a Karen with C or a K.

Not-So-Real Estate

For many of us, buying a house is probably the biggest purchase we’ll ever make, with CNBC reporting the average American house price at just under $300,000. So, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of hungry realtors waiting to snap up our cash and close a deal!

But how exactly can they tempt us into a sale? First of all, they need some bait to lure you into their web, which is often misleading online photos. Take a look at the two photographs below taken from the exact same spot in a room:

room difference

Just a tad different, don’t you think? That’s because wide-angle lenses, like the one used to capture the second image, expand space. Objects look further apart and more distant than normal, which exaggerates the size difference between the foreground and background, creating the illusion of a room being larger than it is.

While it’s understandable that realtors want to show off as much of the house as possible, you can understand why these photos are often a little misleading. And with ultra-wide angle now available on smartphones, it’s never been easier to make things look bigger than they actually are.

Watch on YouTube

Colorado realtor, Crip Erikson, claims that smell is also an important detail, which realtors often use to their advantage. They may spray chocolate-chip cookie spray or even pop up some popcorn, anything that will create an inviting, homely smell.

Erikson also highlights the importance of using music to set an ambiance though he steers clear of any well-known hits, as to avoid any negative associations! After all, you can picture the scene- “Oh, this house is lovely! Wait a minute. Is that Nickelback?!? Come on honey, we’re leaving!”

Driven To Deception

Real estate aside, buying a car is another of life’s biggest purchases, with Forbes reporting that the average brand-new hot-rod will cost you a scorching $45,000. With the industry expected to accelerate to just under 9 trillion dollars by the year 2030, it’s a cash-grab race for car retailers.

So, it’s unsurprising that the car industry has a few advertising tricks up its sleeve. The most mind-blowing is arguably something called the Blackbird: a virtual transformer that can shapeshift into any car!


Essentially, the Blackbird works like any ordinary car, yet with its onboard 360 camera and lidar scanner, it’s nothing less than extraordinary! This 360 dash-cam captures the surrounding environment, while the lidar scanner uses laser technology to collect the dimensions of nearby buildings and objects.

Using CGI, the Blackbird can then be transformed into any car the mind can imagine. Thanks to the 3D motion capture from the 360 camera and lidar scanner, animators are able to recreate authentic reflections on the CGI car, resulting in a hyper-realistic render that’s virtually indistinguishable from reality!

Not only that, but the Blackbird is fully adjustable, so it can lengthen, widen, and switch out wheels and suspension to match the general proportions of anything from a Toyota to a Range Rover.

Watch on YouTube

As impressive as it is, surely it would be easier to shoot a real car, right? Well, apparently not. Often, car advertisements are shot long before the car’s design is fully finalized, so should anything change, it’s much easier and more cost-effective to edit a CGI render than to re-shoot the whole thing.

The Blackbird is also very popular among movie directors, as they have almost any car available at their fingertips, without the damage or insurance risks of actually hiring or buying.

And while the exact price of the Blackbird is kept under wraps, it’s said to be a fraction of the cost for vintage and exotic vehicles. So, while there’s certainly a good reason for the Blackbird, a completely CGI car commercial is perhaps just as deceptive as photoshopped models and food.

Picture this: you neither have access to a Lamborghini nor the Blackbird but you have an oddly specific passion for advertising cars. India based photographer, Kunal Kelkar, found himself in this predicament during the 2020 lockdown and reached a very creative solution!

Kunal was in talks with Lamborghini about a possible photoshoot, but as the pandemic hit, it wasn’t possible for him to travel to Europe. Nevertheless, Kunal decided to shoot the next best thing, a toy Lamborghini.

View post on Instagram

Securing a 1/18th-scale Lamborghini Huracán replica to a treadmill by a piece of string, Kunal used a technique called forced perspective to pull off the illusion of a full-sized Lambo.

Forced perspective is a common technique used by photographers, and just about any tourist visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, whereby the placement of the subject can make something seem closer, farther away, smaller, and in the case of Kunal’s toy Lamborghini, bigger!

In order to make the scene look even more realistic, he sprayed the car and treadmill with water to imitate rain, used bright lighting to produce reflections on the ground, and even used a ping-pong table net for background detailing.

View post on Instagram

And while Kunal hasn’t quite revealed all his secrets, there was probably a little bit of photoshop magic at play too to make those colors really pop! Regardless, once it all comes together, you wouldn’t suspect a thing.

TikToker and filmmaker David Ma shot his own treadmill-cruising car and shared the finished product in action! Similar to Kunal, David created the illusion by using dynamic lighting and forced perspective, but with the addition of a shower rig and fog spray to give the impression of a dramatic storm.

The end result is seriously impressive and makes the mini-BMW appear to swap the treadmill for tarmac!

View post on TikTok

Hair Goals

In order to achieve the seemingly magical locks of shampoo commercials, stylists admit to committing the cardinal sin: using fake hair. Employing extensions, hairpieces, and just about anything that’ll forge the appearance of a voluminous ‘do.

And in some instances, the hair isn’t even attached to the model’s head. With a mound of hair pinned to the backdrop, a model’s hair is seamlessly blended into it with some forced perspective, creating the illusion of long, golden locks.

But the deception doesn’t stop there; oftentimes stylists aren’t able to achieve their unrealistic ambitions, so they’ll simply pump up the volume by stuffing in some Styrofoam balls.

Watch on YouTube

Perhaps the most shocking trick, and yet the most impressive, is how they manage to get those waves of hair dancing through the breeze. And believe it or not, it’s all down to two little green guys. No, not aliens. Green humans, in morphsuits!

View post on Twitter

So, if you actually want hair like in the commercials, you’re gonna need two green guys, some Styrofoam balls, and a snipping taken from Cousin Itt from The Addams Family, available at all good retailers. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, the actual shampoo they’re trying to sell you!

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