A feast for the eyes alone

Adrian Wan
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Food stylists make the products look much more attractive in the finished photographs. Photos: David Sutton

When it comes to food, what you see is not what you get, and nobody should be surprised

By Adrian Wan

You can't believe everything you see. This is particularly true about food, which doesn't always live up to the standards in advertisements or on packaging. But when the line 'photos are just for reference' is used, advertisers are free to exploit their artistic licence.

Advertisements are designed to tell people about a product or service that could benefit them, and boost its sales. But it isn't unusual for consumers to see an eye-catching advertisement, buy the item, and then be disappointed.

Most food adverts come with mouth-watering illustrations of a product. When they do look too good to be true, the line 'Photos are for reference only' often lurks beneath the publicity material. But just how powerful is that line? Does it justify advertisers 'spicing up' their products?

Without mentioning to what extent the line can be used, the Broadcasting Authority's television advertising code states that television commercials, at least, 'may not contain any descriptions, claims or illustrations which expressly or by implication depart from truth or mislead about the product or service advertised'.

But Young Post found out that, when it comes to food, what you see is not what you get. In fact, it is an open secret that food used in adverts is embellished. Thanks to food stylists, who have been around for more than a decade, the products look much more attractive in the finished photographs.

Hamburgers, for instance, do not have a great visual appeal in real life. But a few clever touches - sesame seeds evenly glued to the bun and beef sprayed with glycerine and coloured with motor oil - can make them look delicious.

Sometimes, meat or fish is replaced by a 'look-alike'.

A food stylist surnamed Yuen says even a slice of bread can be passed off as a fried fish fillet.

And other tricks are common. 'For food with soy sauce, for example, we actually don't use soy sauce in the shoot. We opt for something a lot shinier. And someone will smoke a cigarette under the table so smoke seems to be coming from the food, enhancing its appeal,' says an advertising executive, who wishes to remain anonymous.

'That's the way we work. The 'only for reference' line keeps us out of a lot of trouble. The authorities can't do much more than issue a warning.'

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