Over the last two months a debate has been going on over the ethics of retouching photos used in beauty and fashion advertisements. During the same period the food industry spent approximately 1.7 billion USD on fast food ads aimed at children ($10 billion a year).
Critics of the use of retouched images claim the ads foster a feeling of inadequacy in young women and may encourage some to develop eating disorders. Poor body image and eating disorders are important issues for women but childhood and teenage obesity has reached epidemic status in developed nations. While we fuss and fidget over the degree of photoshopping of a photo of an actress or model kids are gobbling down Big Macs, super-sized fries and soft drinks at an unheard of rate, and advertisers and marketers are helping them along.
The study, Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States (released July, 2006) combined content analysis of TV ads with detailed data about kids’ viewing habits in order to provide an estimate of the number and type of TV ads seen by children of various ages. This study used more than 1600 hours of programming and covered all the genres viewed by children (not just children’s shows) to determine how many ads young people actually see.
On average children aged 2-7 saw 4428 food ads per year. Those aged 8-12 saw 7609 food ads and those 13-17 saw 6098 food ads. Of the ads that target children and teens, 34% are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and 10% are for fast food. 4% are for dairy, 1% is for fruit juices and none are fruit and vegetables. Food is the most widely advertised product on the networks viewed during the study and among children’s shows, 50% of all advertising time is dedicated to food ads.
Because children aged 8-12 watch so much television and see so many food ads, they may be the age group most affected by food marketing. At this age, children are developing their own habits, spend increasingly more time away from their parents, and often have their own money. These factors make 8-12 year olds natural targets for marketers. Older kids who have been watching food ads for years, who spend a lot of time away from their parents, and who have money are perfect targets.
For kids the most common primary appeal of food ads is taste (34%). If food ads are to be effective the products must appear tasty and attractive and this is where photo retouching and food styling are used so heavily.
The comparisons seen here between ad copy food photos and untouched photos of the real things show how completely the advertisers distort reality to make their products look delicious. Photoshopping of still images is commonly used in food marketing and eventually, thanks to CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) actual food may not be used at all in food advertising.
The talented digital effects team Branit VFX recently created a video to prove their CGI skills rivaled those of a traditional food stylist. Everything in the video is computer generated, from the straw and ice down to the droplets and smoke. Who needs food? Check it out:
Next AHM takes a hard look at food stylists, the cosmetic surgeons of food advertising.
Research: Angelina Pieros
Food “Ad Copy vs Reality” photos: The West Virginia Surf Report