TOUCH UP: A real burger and the enhanced version.

Kelly Thompson

Most ads stretch the truth somewhat and the average consumer generally knows not to take ads too literally. It has been reported that the average urban dweller is bombarded with about 5 000 ads a day across all media, including television, radio, print, outdoor, internet and social media.

Most of these ads fall somewhere in the gray area between truthful presentation and outright fibbing.

But where is the line and just how many of the images making their way into our subconscious are total lies?

We all know that models are often photoshopped, but is this not deceptive? Some feel that the image being portrayed is false and unrealistic.

Many view this as setting unattainable standards. After all, how can young girls hope to live up to digitally enhanced images?

To this end, the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, recently enacted a law that governs the use of models in the advertising industry.

The new law, titled Weight Limitation in the Modelling Industry Act – 2012, is also colloquially referred to as the “Model Act” or the “Photoshop Act”.

According to David Wolberg of Kuperschmit, Goldstein and Co, the Israeli member of the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance: “The law prohibits advertisements which display models (both male and female) who are underweight in accordance to measuring formulas prescribed in the law (namely, the Body Mass Index, BMI). Models will be obliged to produce a doctor’s certificate prior to taking part in the production of an advertisement.”

Additionally, if an advertiser alters the appearance of the model by digital means, the ad must carry a notice clarifying this.

The law, which will take effect soon, governs all types of advertisements, including television, printed and electronic media. The law only applies to advertisements targeted at the Israeli public/ audience.

Meanwhile, in North America, a video created by fast food giant McDonald’s was recently flighted on the website of the Huffington Post.

The title of the video? “Why do the burgers in McDonald’s advertisements look different than the ones you buy in a store?”

McDonald’s Canada’s director of marketing, Hope Bagozzi, answers that question in the video.

“To find out, Bagozzi visits a local McDonald’s eatery, buys a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and brings it to Watt Photostudios, the agency responsible for McDonald’s creative merchandising for the last seven years. There, the burger is photographed alongside another Quarter Pounder with Cheese that had been prepped. Same type of burger, two totally different looks – the result of physical posturing, food styling tricks and computer-assisted digital touch-ups,” reported The Huffington Post.

What MacDonald’s has done is to “bare all” about what they do to make the food look more appealing in ads.

They are at pains to stress that it is always their basic ingredients, just put together in a way that makes the burgers look better in ads.

It’s ironic that, on the one hand, fast food (generally the unhealthy option) is being digitally enhanced to look as appealing as possible while, on the other hand, the bodies to which advertisers would have us aspire are being digitally enhanced to an unrealistically perfect level.

But maybe we, as consumers, are wising up about the images we see in ads? The fact that people questioned McDonald’s indicates this.

In SA, the Advertising Standards Authority (as well as legislation such as the Consumer Protection Act) specifically prohibits false and misleading ads. Again, however, the question will be what can be considered false and misleading.

The ASA Code says ads should not contain any statement or visual presentation which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity, inaccuracy, exaggerated claim or otherwise, is likely to mislead the consumer.

So, while some degree of digital enhancement for advertising purposes must surely be allowed, if the image appearing in the ad actually misleads the consumer, that may create difficulties.

From time to time, the ASA has dealt with complaints about how fast food is portrayed in ads. Its position appears to be that the product should not differ significantly from how it is portrayed in advertisements – but they also say that consumers do not expect the product to look exactly the same as in the ad.

It is clear that there is a fine line between clever advertising and downright deception. The moral of the story is probably simply that all ads should be taken with a generous pinch of salt and that things are not always as flawless, smooth and cellulite-free as they may seem.

l Thompson is partner: trademarks at law firm Adams & Adams, the SA member of the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance.