12 Food Marketing Illusions You'll Never Unsee

Few things are more frustrating than when your appetite is throwing a temper tantrum because you've neglected it for some time and suddenly the image of a perfectly constructed, glistening meal arrives in your line of sight. Maybe it's a television commercial for a restaurant you love or a huge billboard showcasing a new delicious special being sold a few miles away. Either way, it's an enormous tease that further enhances your hangry attitude, and there's nothing you can do to stop it other than schlepping out to your favorite spot and bringing your whiny stomach along with you.

However, what we don't think about is how much strenuous and meticulous work goes into making that food you saw look absolutely perfect on camera. In reality, those dishes likely don't look a fraction as inviting as they do in photos, and it can lead to you feeling as though you were cheated when you realize the stuff you were just so excited about digging into is a huge leap away from perfect. But that's marketing for you. Food needs to look so sexy on camera that you feel the compulsion to go buy it immediately. And most of the time that means certain behind-the-scenes tricks are implemented to make it happen. Trust us, once you discover these illusionary tactics, you'll never look at a photo or television commercial of your favorite meal the same ever again.

1. Motor oil is used to replicate syrup

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so it's said. Whether or not that's true is up for debate, but what is true is that breakfast does feature some of the tastiest dishes you can get, like pancakes and waffles. Everyone gets excited when they stroll into the kitchen and see a looming stack of flapjacks or a plate full of fluffy Belgian waffles. But we all know that a heap of both pancakes and waffles certainly isn't complete without a healthy coating of syrup. That sticky, sweet golden brown glaze makes every forkful of breakfast food worth waking up for. However, you'd absolutely never want a huge bite of the syrup-drenched pancakes and waffles you see in ads.

Why is that? Well, it turns out the syrup isn't actually syrup most of the time. Instead, photographers actually use motor oil to replicate the sugary glaze. Yea, just imagine kicking your day off with a stack of fluffy pancakes covered in motor oil. Yuck! But there's a valid reason why this tactic is used. It doesn't take long for breakfast foods to appear heavy and unappetizing when doused in actual syrup. But oil is slick enough so it doesn't soak in the pancakes or waffles and render them soggy. So the photographers have a lot more time to work when using motor oil.

2. Tampons can help create fake steam

When it comes to food advertisements, there are several variables that get your appetite to start growling. Obviously, the food itself has to look amazing and the colors must appear vibrant and pop on camera so you feel like whatever you're looking at is at the peak of freshness. Another visual that also gives off a delicious energy is steam. When you see fresh steam surrounding a dish, it makes you think it was just pulled out of the oven and is tender to the touch. That definitely gets the appetite talking. But you'd be quite surprised at how advertisements actually create that wispy steam.

Believe it or not, the process involves tampons. Yes, you read that correctly. You're probably absolutely baffled as to how tampons could tie in at all to a delicious food commercial, but there's a great reason they're used. If you soak a tampon in water and then toss it in the microwave until it gets hot, the tampon begins to emit tons of steam. Simply place it behind whatever food is in front of the camera and you have yourself an item that looks hot, steamy, and fresh out of the oven.

3. Shoe polish makes cooked meat glisten

If you love a good carnivorous meal, then watching television commercials that feature flame-grilled ribeyes and glistening chicken legs prancing around in front of your eyes is an appetite-inducing experience that makes you wanna drive to the supermarket and buy an array of cuts yourself. Anyone who's tended to a fat, juicy piece of meat on a grill knows all too well how amazing it feels when you pull it off and it's cooked to the perfect temperature. Well, when it comes to food ads, photographers don't want to spend time having to actually cook every piece of meat they're capturing on camera, so they use a very nifty technique instead.

As it turns out, brushing some shoe polish on raw meat does an excellent job of giving it a cooked appearance (via Blossom). Sometimes the polish is even mixed with browning sauce for an even more authentic look. This alleviates the entire cooking process, which would just waste time in a studio. So the next time you see an ad for some delicious cooked meat and think, "I wanna just reach inside the screen and eat that," just know you'd likely get food poisoning if you did.

4. Lipstick will make strawberries vibrant

Before food ever reaches our palate and we're able to bask in the flavor, we eat with our eyes. This is why an appealing visual aesthetic is so important when trying to lure people to try a dish. Ingredient placement can play a big role, but color is definitely vital. When a dish erupts with loud, vibrant hues it makes all the food look extremely fresh — and fresh means appetizing. But just know that some of those colors that really pop on the camera lens aren't the actual colors that belong to the food at all.

The DIY experts at Blossom shed some light on this coloring tactic in an Instagram post. It featured a bowl of strawberries on a table, but some of the strawberries were lacking that vivid red color that makes them so delicious looking. So, the stylist used a tube of red lipstick and applied it to every area on the strawberries that weren't glowing red, and soon enough the bowl was filled with fruit that looked the perfectly ripe and calling out to be devoured.

5. Shaving cream is used to top pie

Even if you don't have much of a sweet tooth, if you see a fresh piece of pie pop up on your television screen, there's a good chance you'll suddenly have a hankering for a slice. It just looks so darn good! It appears like it just left the oven and it's soft and melty in the center. And who can enjoy a piece of pie without a fluffy tuft of sweet whipped cream on top to lend that extra light and sugary sensation to each bite of richly sweet pie? Without whipped cream, a piece of pie just doesn't look complete. But even though that bouncy white ingredient makes pie look awesome in ads, you wouldn't want to eat any of it.

If someone handed you a piece of whipped cream-topped pie straight off a photo shoot, you'd take one bite and spit it out instantly. The pie might not taste terrible, but the whipped cream would taste identical to shaving cream. Why? Because that's actually what it is. Photographers use shaving cream instead of actual whipped cream because shaving cream still gives the look and feel of the sugary ingredient, but won't melt under the hot camera lights (via Global Print Monitor).

6. Photographed food usually isn't fresh

Anytime you buy or order food, you're obviously opting for things you enjoy, but you're also on the lookout for one other vital characteristic — freshness. You don't want anything that enters your body to carry the flavor of something that's been sitting out for a while or is undercooked. Not only does the taste suffer but depending on what the ingredient is, you could get really sick. Now, obviously when it comes to food photography for ads, the goal is to make every ingredient look as fresh and delicious as possible. However, in reality, many times the food in the pictures actually isn't that fresh at all (via Deccan Herald).

So, why does the food appear so fresh then? Well, photographers implement specific tactics so the final product looks like it came out of an oven seconds earlier or was just picked from a vine moments before. When an ad has an array of vegetables in it, the color of the veggies are actually more vibrant prior to the full cooking process, so each ingredient is only partially cooked to avoid having to tinker with the colors afterward. If a dessert is the star of the photo show, chances are it's actually a few days old and spruced up with fresh frosting or syrup to give the appearance it was just made.

7. Mashed potatoes stand in for ice cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Ice cream is such a beloved dessert. Not only does it come in tons of delicious flavors, but on a hot summer day there are few better ways to stave off the heat while enjoying a delightfully sugary treat. When that ice cream ad pops up in front of you it's so hard to resist the urge to go buy a pint and treat yourself for the evening. Companies are always unleashing brand new flavors with a wild combination of ingredients, and it's only going to get better. However, that ice cream you see in those ads is far from the cold, creamy dessert you know and love so well.

The truth of the matter is that photographers simply can't use ice cream in photoshoots because the heat of the camera lights would melt everything in minutes, resulting in both a runny mess and a headache for everyone trying to capture the perfect picture. So photographers swap out the ice cream and replace it with mashed potatoes (per Amazing Zone). The potatoes can be scooped just like ice cream and look identical to the dessert. Simply throw some food dye on them and viola! Anyone craving root vegetables for dessert?

8. Condiments have wax added to them

No one likes dry food. Plain and simple. Have you ever bitten into a sandwich that had no condiments and you literally had to chew the bite over and over just so you could choke it down? That's exactly where a healthy smear of mustard or mayonnaise comes in to save the day. Imagine a basket of chicken tenders arriving at your table without a delicious sauce to dunk them in. Sure, the tenders on their own might taste okay, but once they emerge from a condiment jacuzzi they have a much more pleasant mouthfeel. Condiments don't just add flavor, they help everything travel down the gullet a little easier. But that doesn't mean the sauces you see in ads would have that same effect.

Many times during photo shoots, photographers add wax to the sauces to help them retain their cohesion. Without the wax, there's a chance the ingredients in the sauce might separate over time, resulting in a very unappealing aesthetic. Wax can also add to the color, as well, creating a vibrant look that'll have you running out to the grocery store and picking up a jar of your favorite sauce soon after.

9. Elmer's glue is swapped in for milk

Milk goes with cereal like syrup goes with pancakes. Sure, you can eat a bowl of Lucky Charms or a stack of IHOP flapjacks without their counterpart, but let's be real — it's nowhere near as satisfying. A splash of cold milk over your morning bowl of cereal isn't only refreshing, but the flavor of the milk soaks into the cereal to enhance the overall experience even more. Of course, anyone who's left a bowl of cereal alone for too long also knows how milk can create a soggy textural nightmare in the bowl. So when it comes to food photography, there's a simple method used to ensure that cereal never gets soggy on camera.

Turns out, a little product called Elmer's glue alleviates any headache that actual milk would cause on a set (per The Baltimore Sun). The glue can't penetrate the cereal and create that soggy look. Plus, the color is super white, giving off the appearance of very fresh milk, which is always going to make the cereal appear far more appetizing. Since glue is an adhesive, you can also use tweezers to carefully place pieces of cereal exactly where you want them permanently and give viewers a morning bowl of perfection.

10. Tweezers allow for the perfect amount of sesame seeds on a bun

When it comes to buns, the addition of sesame seeds gives every bite a nice hint of nutty flavor, which only makes the sandwich or burger you're eating an even tastier experience. Obviously, in a perfect world a sesame seed bun would have the seeds spread evenly across the bread so your palate had the same sesame experience with every bite. But, anyone who's eaten one of the buns (say, on a Big Mac from McDonald's) knows that the seeds are never uniformly spread, with there being large clusters in one area and completely bare bread in other spots. Well, food photographers have a clever way of avoiding this issue.

It might take a long time and feel quite arduous, but tweezers are used to carefully place every sesame seed you see (via PBS). This makes every bun look perfect. The tweezers snag a seed and then gently dip it into a little glue so it adheres to the bread. The process sounds fairly annoying, but when it comes to selling burgers, you have to go through whatever lengths necessary to get that final product looking too good to be true (which it is).

11. Heat guns make for the perfect meat char

Any self-proclaimed grill master knows just how important it is to get the perfect char on whatever cut of meat they're cooking. A great char indicates the person behind the food knew exactly what they were doing. It's a bragging point for any backyard barbecue cook. As such, in ads that feature cuts of meat or grilled ingredients, it's imperative that the food has the utmost perfect char to get people's bellies rumbling. Now, photographers could spend time over a hot grill trying to manage an immaculate char, but they have a very nifty technique they use instead that saves a whole lot of time.

The key to obtaining an award-winning char for photos is through the use of heat guns, which supply an incredibly hot burst of flame right onto the food. The food won't cook all the way through, but the heat guns instantly create a great char on the outside, which is the only angle the audiences will see anyway. A food stylist named Emma Feigenbaum explained to Insider more about why heat guns are ideal. She said, "My heat gun can get up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit ... With this thing, I can hit the exact spot that I want so you don't have to re-cook the entire dish."

12. Liquid soap is added to keep beverages looking fresh

You simply can't have a beer commercial without tons of frothy cold ones staring every viewer in the eye and beckoning them to jump in their car and venture to the store to buy a 12-pack. It's that lovely, foamy, frothy texture that kicks your salivary glands into high gear. The same goes with fizzy soda. The commercials and photos give every beverage the perfect amount of froth and bubbles, leaving you reeling for a sip. But photographers know all too well they can't rely on just the foam that the drink alone supplies.

In order to create a mouthwatering amount of foam that balances on the top of a drink, food stylists add liquid soap to the drink (per Deccan Herald). The soap creates an immense amount of foamy bubbles that won't fizzle away quickly, so photographers can play with it in front of their camera for quite some time to capture the perfect image. Pretty cool, right? However, knowing a beverage has soap mixed into it definitely takes away some of that eagerness to take a sip when you see the photos.