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Are fast food chains beefing up photos?

An opportunistic US law firm has filed another lawsuit against fast food chains – McDonalds and Wendy’s this time – over claims that advertisement photos mislead customers over the portrayal of food size.

The Wendy’s Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger marketing photo.

This proposed class action suit has been filed in New York with plaintiff Justin Chimienti – represented by The Law Office of James C. Kelly, The Russo Firm – seeking US$50 million in damages. These two law firms also filed a lawsuit against Burger King in Florida over similar claims about size differences between professional food photos and the real product.

The court filings use almost identical argument about marketing photos making the food appear 15 to 20 percent larger. The latest alleges McDonalds and Wendy’s are guilty of ‘Violations of State Consumer Protection Laws, Breach of Contract, Negligent Misrepresentation, and Unjust Enrichment’.

When Inside Imaging reported on the Burger King lawsuit, award-winning Australian food photographer, Paul Williams, pointed out that great food photography shows the ingredients of a product while managing the customers’ expectation.

‘Food stylist’s and photographer’s skills manage a customer’s expectations, even in this most extreme of examples that I’m giving. There is no greater example of ‘misleading’ food photography than the McDonald’s burger. Shooting the burger ‘as it comes to you’ in the restaurant however, would offer very little clue as to what’s actually in it, yet thanks to great photography, nobody is surprised about the content of the burger once they’ve bitten into it.’

Showing all the ingredients in a burger is harder to do than with some other food products, as ingredients are sandwiched between each other. A professional food stylist will have techniques to do the job without making a fist-sized burger appear to be a towering monolith.

The lawsuit claims that fast food chains are ‘unfair and financially damaging consumers as they are receiving food that is much lower in value than what is being promised’, according to the BBC.

The lawsuit highlights how it’s particularly shocking in the current economic climate, with inflation along with high food and meat prices impacting consumers, particularly ‘lower income consumers, [who are] are struggling financially’.

Here is a photo from the court filing of the Wendy’s Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger customer’s picture:

Despite being the same Wendy’s burger, this customer picture appears to be a much different beast to what appears at the top of this article!

The lawsuit cites a food stylist who admits to using undercooked patties to make the advertised burger appearing larger than a cooked one, according to LawStreetMedia.

Like the lawsuit against Burger King, the law firm’s evidence leans heavily on reviews by YouTube-based food critics. ‘It’s looking a little sad… not like the picture,’ one YouTube reviewer, cited in the lawsuit, said of Wendy’s Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger.

New York-based law professor at the University of Buffalo, Mark Bartholomew, believes the YouTube reviews don’t quite provide the foundation to win the case. The court will be more concerned with whether customers are actually duped.

‘Both of those are an uphill battle for the plaintiff to prove,’ he told the  Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger, noting the fast food companies could likely argue that the public expects some exaggeration in a marketing campaign.

‘My guess is that what they really want is a settlement and this will never go to a full blown trial.’


One Comment

  1. Nicholas Grocott Nicholas Grocott June 2, 2022

    Sorry folks, but your headline is annoyingly stupid. The answer is bleedingly obvious and is a resounding YES. Having had some involvement in this artful genre of photography, I can say, without any qualification whatsoever, the whole practice is a con.
    It should not be called food photography, but food design – it’s all about design, lighting, presentation and trickery. Taking the photo is almost an afterthought. The task is to make the product look far better than it is in reality – and that’s dishonest. Sadly the consumer accepts this.

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