US Business News

Unveiling the Discrepancy: Food Advertising vs. Reality

Image commercially licensed from: DepositPhotos

In the realm of food advertising, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. Recent legal actions are striving to rectify this disconnect. Over the past few years, a wave of class-action lawsuits has been initiated against fast food giants, accusing them of misrepresenting their products in marketing campaigns. Spearheaded by lawyers James Kelly and Anthony Russo, these lawsuits target major chains such as Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s. The central claim? The tantalizing images depicted in ads bear little resemblance to the actual fare served. This article delves into the details of these legal battles, exploring the evidence presented, the driving forces behind the lawsuits, and the blurred lines between advertising and deception.

The Evidence:

In Pictures and Words

The crux of these legal actions lies in the stark contrast between advertised images and real-life products. In advertisements, burgers tower with generous helpings of meat and cheese, crowned by golden, rounded buns. Yet, the reality captured in photographs of fast food purchases paints a different picture – flat, with meager fillings barely protruding from lackluster buns. Tacos face a similar fate, as Taco Bell’s Crunchwraps appear hearty and plump in ads but turn out flat and almost empty in lawsuit photos.

The Surge in Food Litigation:

Driven by a Dedicated Few

The surge in food litigation, particularly related to deceptive advertising, can be largely attributed to a handful of committed lawyers. Alongside Russo and Kelly, Spencer Sheehan has filed numerous class-action suits centered on misleading descriptions of packaged foods. Starbucks, for instance, faced allegations of naming its “Refreshers” beverages after ingredients they lack. The debate revolves around whether these ads mislead a “reasonable consumer.”

Defining the “Reasonable Consumer”:

Is It Deception or Just Marketing?

The linchpin of these lawsuits hinges on whether advertisements deceive the “reasonable consumer.” Courts must navigate the fine line between marketing tactics designed to make food appear enticing and outright deception. Burger King contends that consumers understand that food in ads is stylized for maximum appeal, emphasizing that a Whopper patty consistently contains a quarter-pound of beef as promised. However, this argument didn’t fully sway a judge who opted to let the jury decide what constitutes “reasonable.”

Starbucks faces similar challenges, with a recent order acknowledging the potential for consumers to be misled by beverage names.

The Perspective of a “Reasonable Consumer”:

Average vs. Reasonable

Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, distinguishes between the “average consumer” and the “reasonable consumer.” The legal system often holds the latter to a higher standard of awareness. Patten notes that many individuals have expressed dissatisfaction with the gap between their expectations based on advertising and the reality of their fast food orders.

Beyond Lawsuits:

Educating the Consumer

While these lawsuits shed light on the issue, some question their effectiveness. Patten suggests that class-action suits, if not dismissed, often lead to settlements that may not truly address the problem. Yet, with consumers increasingly conscious of their spending, it’s crucial to examine whether they receive the expected quantity of food from major fast food chains.

Ultimately, these legal actions serve to educate consumers, enabling them to make more informed choices. In an era of savvy purchasers, knowledge is indeed a powerful defense against deceptive marketing.


In the world of food advertising, what’s depicted in flashy commercials doesn’t always align with the reality of what you receive at the counter. Recent lawsuits, driven by dedicated lawyers, aim to bridge this gap by challenging deceptive practices. While the question of what constitutes a “reasonable consumer” remains a key battleground, these legal actions serve as a valuable tool in educating consumers and prompting a closer look at the expectations set by major fast food chains.