Revealed: Ad hacks from ‘shoe-shined burgers’ to ‘mash potato-ice cream’

Hungry? Beware, that perfectly placed ad you’re drooling over – that juicy, glossy brown-bunned burger – could have you fooled. (Shutterstock)

Hungry? Beware, that perfectly placed ad you’re drooling over – that juicy, glossy brown-bunned burger – could have you fooled.

The international advertising industry relies on a host of visual tricks to push products and make even the most mundane sandwich seem wildly appealing. From mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream, to shoe polish being used to brown-up burger buns, take off those rose-tinted glasses - it’s time to unveil the secrets behind your favorite ad.

Scroll down for an Infographic on The Art of Deceptive Advertising

“Let’s face it, a standard shot of a hot fudge brownie – as appealing as that might be – is not going to look great blown up to the size of a highway billboard,” Ravi Sharma, advertising agent in a Dubai-based firm, told Al Arabiya News.



“There is a huge range of methods used to make that brownie seem more appealing – from motor oil being used instead of syrup, due to its consistency, to mashed potato ‘ice cream’,” he added.

It’s a competitive market, especially when it comes to fast moving consumer goods such as packed foods, he added. The competition makes advertising billboards, posters and TV commercials the front-line, the make or break when it comes to sales.

“Our job is to make the product stand out against, sometimes, hundreds of competitors,” Mohammad Omari, an advertising executive in an Oman-based firm, told Al Arabiya News. “To do that, we have to pull out all the guns – hairspray, antacids and photo shop.”



Hairspray is commonly used to make vegetables seem more fresh and appealing in photographs, while an antacid tablet dropped into a soda drink will fizz up, resulting in a more appealing shot.

Sharma argues that the adverts are still truthful – as required by the UAE’s Advertising Standards set by the National Media Council – saying that the product is simply “photographed in a more appealing fashion, much like a fashion model wearing make-up to keep up with the standards of the modeling industry.”

Photoshop: an advertiser’s ‘best friend’

Photoshop software is a useful tool in advertising. Used to brighten up pictures, crop shots and work a number of wonders on photographs, Sharma calls it “an advertiser’s best friend.

“It’s a one stop shop for sprucing up a product’s image,” he said. “As long as editing is done within the boundaries of representing the truth, it is permissible to photoshop an image.”



But what if an advertiser goes too far? The fashion industry has come under fire in recent years for editing images of models and supposedly enforcing unattainable beauty standards.

From lengthened limbs to barely there waist-lines, some believe there should be a limit to what photo editors can change when it comes to presenting the human form.

“A previous company I worked for did receive a complaint about one of our images of a woman who had been photoshopped,” Omary said, declining to name the firm. “The complainant said the advert misrepresented reality.”



In March, a former editor at Cosmopolitan, Leah Hardy, wrote an exposé about the practice of Photoshopping models to hide the health costs of the extreme thinness they are encouraged to attain.

Models are routinely edited to fill them out if they are considered too thin or slim them down if they are not considered thin enough. Robin Derrick, creative director of Vogue, admitted : “I spent the first ten years of my career making girls look thinner - and the last ten making them look larger.”

Lost in translation

Advertisers in the Gulf have faced another problem extra to their presentation of models; shaky translations.

“With a large expat community in the UAE especially, we have to make sure the translations into English of adverts are spot on,” Sharma said. “There have been some funny ‘lost in translation’ moments.”



A Saudi Arabia-based catering firm called M. M. Badkook Restaurants & Catering Company has garnered laughs in the past, while some brands forget that in Arabic, text is read from left to right.

The reversal has led to some products being mis-marketed. For example, the Tide detergent company wanted to override the language barrier by utilizing picture-only billboards in a number of countries, according to the Alta Translation services website.

“The premise of these images was simple: In the first frame, a frowning woman holds up a dirty shirt. The second frame shows her placing this shirt into a washing machine and loading it with Tide detergent. Finally, in the second frame she cheerfully holds up the now-clean shirt.”

The fact that in Arabic-speaking countries both text and images are read right to left made the Tide campaign seem as though the product sullied, rather than cleaned, clothes.

(Infographic by

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