How Food Ads Mislead Us

How Food Ads Mislead Us

How do people learn about our food these days? For most Chinese, especially those who grew up in the cities or who never actually farmed, the answer is probably: from the food that’s on our plates, and from of course, the food advertisements. But what about these ads? What are they telling people? The success of an advertisement, which is the essential part of marketing, is usually judged by fancy terms like creativity, dramatization, brand recognition…NOT the extent to which it’s telling the truth.

Here are some examples of food ads from China. What are they telling those who see them?

A couple of very cool cows
McDonald's china ads

The two McDonald’s advertisements are way too cute…appealing especially to children who often think of animals as if they’re cartoon characters.
The Chinese characters in the first ad read (literally) “energetic beef makes you more energetic” (not even grammatically correct in Chinese!). Those in the second ad read “strong beef makes you stronger” (still a failure grammatically in Chinese!).

Crab claws and romantic picnics, courtesy of KFC
Guangdong Province

These two advertisements come from KFC.
The first is for “golden crab claws”. The Chinese characters in the middle read “full crab claw flesh, fresh, tender and yummy”. The second ad goes beyond the food itself to explore social relations. The Chinese characters on the top middle read “spring time, start off with great taste”. The left part of the ad shows the image of two lovers happily and harmoniously enjoying KFC “family size” together on a beautiful patch of grass. Idyllic, no?

“Exotic” Pizza
Pizza Hut ads

In China, Pizza Hut is favored to KFC and McDonalds especially for a date, or a family or friends get-together. It came to China later than the other two, and specializes in pizza, which is something more “exotic” to Chinese people than burgers or chicken. Pizza Hut also also has a pleasant Chinese name, “bi sheng ke”, meaning in English “must win customer/” OK, the first ad: “romantic moment, true love ‘must win'”. The marketing people creatively incorporate the name of the restaurant “must win” into the slogan, making it very appealing to those looking for love and romance. The second ad reads: “great taste is the joy he grows up with”. Look at the image. What’s the message? Pizza from “must win customer” brings your family happiness and harmony and ensures that your kid is healthy and happy.

Food in these times is highly symbolized. Every day, we take in the images and constructed associations delivered to us by food companies, restaurants, and the media, the goals of which are to create brand recognition, sensation, appeal, dramatic effect…but where’s the market that tells the truth?