My brother, who I affectionately refer to as the Human Garbage Disposal, walked into Arby's recently and ordered three roast beef sandwiches, large curly fries and a fruit turnover. The HGD doesn't eat so much as consume. He's like a forest fire. The HGD took his two trays of grub and found a seat. To his dismay, when he lifted the sandwich buns to slather on sauces, he found three pathetic, sad piles of roast beef, one seemingly smaller than the next. Not only did the beef not cover the surface of the lower bun, but when he put the top bun back on, he couldn't even see the precious meat.
This sight, in and of itself, didn't send the HGD into fits. What did it was the large poster hanging inside the restaurant showing what can only be described as the Tower of Babel roast beef sandwich. The HGD looked around. Throughout the restaurant were pictures of beautiful, ideal roast beef sandwiches, stacked three inches high with beef.
Hell hath no fury like a food-depraved HGD.
He stormed up to the counter and stated simply, "I demand more roast beef." The manager briefly inspected the HGD's order and said the sandwiches were made to company specification. The HGD, too flabbergasted and hungry to speak, pointed at the combo meal sign above him that showcased Tower o' Beef.
The manager said that's just advertising. The sandwiches don't ever actually look like that. Now that, my friends, is a problem.
How can advertising not accurately depict a consumer product? Why do we let them get away with this? The legal issues surrounding false advertising are complicated, to say the least. What legal issue isn't, right?
Consumers have two white knights in the government: the Federal Trade Commission and the Lanham Act. The FTC monitors and regulates advertising and (supposedly) swoops in when egregious false advertising occurs. Let's be honest: They are probably more concerned with outrageous claims (i.e., "this brand will cure gaping head wounds within minutes of opening the box") than with the size of roast beef sandwiches. The Lanham Act gives folks like you and me the power to sue companies for false advertising. The problem here is that you have to prove that you were "injured" as a result of the ad. I'm not sure a good lawyer could prove my brother suffered much as a result of his not getting enough beef.
Since hearing the Disposal's story, I've conducted thorough research on the fast food industry, taking great pains to compare a restaurant's print advertising with the product I actually receive. The results surprised even me.
I have been studying McDonald's fries lately. Save for a few burnt ones I get in a pack, they do look pretty true to form. Wendy's and Burger King didn't do as well.
Rally's ad campaign is based on the idea that their burgers are messy. Boy howdy, is that true. I tried to eat one of their burgers in the car the other day. That thing was sloppier than my Uncle Bob at an open bar wedding reception.
On the flip side, Frisch's Big Boys are always presented in such a clean, vertical state in the photographs. The burgers sit evenly within the bun. The day I get a sandwich like this is the day I play the lottery. There are as many right angles in an everyday Big Boy as there are in the DAAP building at UC. I'm beginning to think Frisch's workers purposely offset the sandwich, perhaps as a tribute to modern art.
After a week of bingeing, I hereby give the Consistent Presentation award to Skyline Chili. Ever seen a cheese coney that didn't look exactly like the one in the commercial? Of course, coneys are simple to concoct, but so are burritos and Taco Bell isn't the most reliable advertiser.
It's time to get angry, consumers. Perform an informal study yourself. Don't be afraid to demand more roast beef, but don't be surprised when you don't get it.