Bite? Chew? Digest?

Restaurants burgers

How far should you go when showing that your food is for eating?

By Charlie Hopper

Here’s an argument-starter: I believe the classic “Bite and Smile” sequence in most commercials is superfluous. I believe that photography of someone consuming any sort of food is basically a depiction of the first steps toward the biological unpleasantness of human digestion.

I believe it’s very difficult to get a photo or video of a homo sapiens actor or model forming a bolus and preparing to swallow a morsel of sustenance that makes an onlooker hungry. “Um, excuse me, server? I’ll have what she’s ingesting.”

And I could be wrong.

Hey, “no rules” – that’s my policy. Thoughtful guidelines and helpful tips-to-consider, but no rules. Let’s think through the pros and cons of showing your food being enjoyed versus showing your food being metaphorically dangled on a hook like delicious bait. (See how even-handedly I phrased the proposition? Both sides have merit.) No rules!

Okay. So. Say you’re a burger joint. Your professional food photographer has provided footage both of an actress chomping into your Mushroom Swiss D-Lucks, daintily touching the corner of her mouth as she begins to chew. And also, in case you’d prefer, simple but effective footage of the burger in its final stage of assembly. The bun placed by an anonymous hand model atop thick, good-looking mushrooms, melty cheese and moistened beef as the camera sneakily edges closer, initially catching a little ramekin of mushrooms and a nice block of cheese before the lens is too close to see the background.

You’re in the edit bay. Your editor is showing you two versions of your promotional food video. (Is it an ad? Is it web content? Doesn’t matter.) One version contains the actress tucking in to the burger and one simply shows the product. There’s nothing really wrong with either.

1. Should you choose the version with the hungry-but-now-satisfied actress?

PRO: The “Bite and Smile” is so familiar to audiences that its lift-bite-chew motion operates subliminally – rather than intellectualizing the process, a viewer simply regards the footage as a natural activity associated with your product, like scenes of a car being driven or a mobile phone being talked-on. It’s best practices!

Restaurants mouthCON: First, don’t do stuff just because other people do it. And there’s no digestive juice or violent molar grinding involved in piloting a car or deciding on a phone plan. What is involved in the “use” of a burger is a graphic, difficult-to-control process of turning food to calories and nutrients that our brains have mostly trained our eyes to ignore: what if we walked in a restaurant or sat with our loved ones and really, really focused on exactly what everybody was doing with his or her food? I think any distraction would soon be welcome.

Your Decision: ______________________

2. ...or are you still undecided?

PRO: Showing the actor-model eating helps potential customers imagine themselves in the place of the model: “That should be me eating that burger!”

CON: People do not consume video footage like mushroom burgers – they do not just take in what you give them and move along. There is no evidence (and probably no way to gather evidence) that a demonstration of the food’s consumption affects the targets appetite or enthusiasm to “come-and-get-it” one way or another.

Your Decision: ______________________

3. ...both attitudes are defensible—you could go either way.

PRO: The “reptile brain,” which is a nice catchy term for the base urges we feel courtesy of the amygdala portion of our brains, loves the unfussy, excessive, glorious, juicy, animal-instinct aspects of obtaining fresh kill and crunching away at it with the jawbone. Humans have a gut-level reaction to something that looks great-to-eat, and editing your promotional food footage while ignoring that urge totally overestimates the reasoning part of our consciousness to control our emotional impulses.

CON: Maybe. It’s still gross. And guess what, Mr. Reptile – that burger looks pretty awesome in the food-only footage where the only person around is a hand model sticking a bun on it. Me Want. Look Yum. Eat Big Chomp Now.

Your Decision: ______________________

4. ...this is getting more confusing, not less.

PRO: Product demonstration is one of the most classic, well-worn, time-tested and reliable forms of advertising ANYthing! Why fight it?

CON: Again – don’t just copy other people. If jumping off the roof were an effective way of advertising food, etc., you know where I’m headed with this. What do you think is the most persuasive approach – and why?

Your Decision: ______________________

5. ...sorry, yes, we’ll stop sniping at each other.

PRO: I think you’re being a little wimpy and way too over-intellectual.

CON: Well, then, while I’m at it: let’s use our intellects some more. What if the downside of doing a product demo of food (as opposed to demonstrating a tool or medicine) is that showing a Bite and Smile sequence is, in fact, telling your friend the reptile brain that the burger they’re seeing belongs to somebody else. And if you’d just show the well-lit, well-shot, contextualized, somewhat imperfect-and-the-better-for-it footage of the burger sitting all available, enticing and inviting: what if that signaled ‘Buy now!’ more than the pretty person eating? Huh?

Your Decision: ______________________

...okay, time is money in the edit bay. You want to show the person enjoying the burger? Or the burger by its beautiful self, sitting there waiting to be snagged by a clever consumer? We’ll abide by your decision. (I think you know where I stand.)

Charlie Hopper, principal/writer of ad agency Young & Laramore, shares views on restaurant marketing at, as well as in recently published books “Nuggets, Nibbles, Morsels, Crumbs: Selected Restaurant Marketing Columns from Food & Drink International,” and “Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word Delicious.” Hopper is known for his unique and witty perspective on food and restaurant brands and is a regular contributor to Food & Drink International. 


Corporate Head Office

Food and Drink Magazine
Cringleford Business Centre
Intwood Road, Cringleford, Norwich, UK

 +44 (0) 1603 274 130

Click here for a full list of contacts.

North American Office

Food and Drink Magazine
Finelight Media
207 E. Ohio Street Suite 351
Chicago, IL 60611

Click here for a full list of contacts.

Please publish modules in offcanvas position.

Back To Top