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7 tricks TV commercials use to make food look better

It’s easy to forget that the goal of television commercials is to sell a product. Advertisers are great at drawing people in with flash, pizzazz, and trickery because that’s their job.

Everyone’s had a moment of realization that a just-bought fast food burger looks nothing like its TV commercial counterpart. This is often because advertisers use clever tricks of the trade to make food look delicious on-screen.

Don’t believe it? Here are seven tricks TV commercials use to make food look better.

Glue as cheese

Fancy pizza with melting cheese being lifted by spatula
Credit: Hans Geel/ Shutterstock

Rarely does cheese on pizza stretch like it does in the commercials. There’s a reason for that! Sure, cheese does stretch when it’s melted, but every slice you pull from the pie doesn’t give you that satisfying stringy goodness you’ve been tricked to expect.

What’s the advertising secret? Glue. Or at least that’s the rumor.

Some advertisers might mix globs of regular white craft glue with a small bit of cheese and stir it up well. This mixture can then be applied to the sides of a pre-sliced piece of pizza, and the slice gets slotted back into the pie. Give everything a few seconds to settle, secure the surrounding slices with a few screws, and you’re ready to pull. The glue/cheese mixture stretches nicely but still looks like natural pizza cheese.

Shaving cream as whipped cream

Wedge of pumpkin pie with white whipped cream dollop on top
Credit: Marie C Fields/ Shutterstock

Real whipped cream runs when it starts to warm up. That poses a problem for photographers and advertisers. Runny whipped cream doesn’t look good on the screen.

Chilled whipped cream starts to run immediately when it’s under photography lighting, and pretty soon a picturesque scene of pie with whipped cream looks like a soggy mess.

The solution is to swap out whipped cream with shaving cream. Shaving cream won’t run under hot lights and stays put in a perfect dollop for as long as an advertiser needs it to for a photograph or commercial.

Cardboard as cake

Multi-layered chocolate cake sliced open with tiers on display
Credit: Agent Penguin/ Shutterstock

On-screen cakes always look mouth-watering, fluffy, and full when covered in frosting. Multi-tiered cakes stand tall and tasty in all their commercial spotlight, but they do so with a little help.

The reason your cakes at home and the cake you buy in-store don’t look as good as those on TV is because advertisers boost their commercial cake buoyancy with a little cardboard.

A small section of cardboard sitting between cake layers, and then expertly covered in frosting, gives a cake that full, fluffy look.

Potatoes as ice cream

Bin of vanilla ice cream being scooped into a perfectly formed ball
Credit: Eva Orlova/ Shutterstock

Perfect scoops of ice cream are as elusive as perfect squirts of toothpaste, which is why advertisers use tricks when shooting ice cream.

Ice cream, like whipped cream, melts under lights and in a warm commercial studio.

The secret to perfectly scooped ice cream that lasts on-screen is mashed potatoes. That’s right, a nice scoop of mashed potatoes looks just like a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream when it’s in a bowl. What’s more, food coloring is perfect for a variety of different flavors. Mix a few drops into the potatoes, and you have everything from chocolate to lime to strawberry.

Soap as suds

Beers in tall glasses resting on table with thick head of foam
Credit: Viiviien/ Shutterstock

Every poured pint of beer in commercials has a finger of foam sitting right against the rim of the glass. Have you ever tried to achieve a commercial-perfect pour? You might get one, if you’re lucky, but the suds quickly deflate.

That’s why advertisers use a drop of dish soap in their pint glasses. Beer foam dissipates quickly, which proves challenging for photographers trying to snap a shot of the perfect pint. A few drops of dish soap in the bottom of the glass before the beer goes in provides a nice, long-lasting foam.

Engine oil as syrup

Stack of pancakes with fruit being covered with stream of maple syrup
Credit: svariophoto/ Shutterstock

Pancakes are like food sponges, and they’ll soak up most liquids you pour onto them in a matter of seconds. This doesn’t work for food photographers who need great shots of a scrumptious stack of pancakes with syrup on top.

Commercials often use motor oil as syrup on pancakes for its similar color and its consistency. It looks just like rich maple syrup, but it won’t soak into the pancakes. This gives a photographer some time to compose and take shots for a commercial without worrying about a soggy mess.

Bonus: Adding a thin layer of cardboard between pancakes (just like cake) also adds support to the stack and makes it sit taller and look fluffier.

Hairspray for shiny fruit

Bin of shiny green and red apples against white background
Credit: Kenishirotie/ Shutterstock

Shiny fruit looks better than dull fruit. Unfortunately, not all fruit shines all the time, and most fruit isn’t shiny unless artificially altered. That’s just not how fruit works.

But that’s not a problem for advertisers. The solution to flat-looking fruit for a commercial shoot is to give each apple or strawberry a good spritz of hairspray.

Hairspray gives fruit a healthy shine that sticks around for a while. Mouth-watering fruit stays that way even under heavy studio lighting when there’s a can of hairspray nearby.