Photo: JumlongCh (iStock)

Companies face an obstacle when it comes to testing outside-the-box food advertising: Customers might be really turned off by unconventional ideas. Take, for example, a long-held maxim that people should not stare at the camera while chewing in food commercials. A company might want to actually test this, but it risks a huge bomb if the experiment fails. And if the company tests such ads with a targeted focus group, the results might not reflect real-world conditions. So Google’s Unskippable Labs came up with a solution: Make up a fake pizza company, and then create test commercials for it.

TechCrunch reports the fabricated pizza brand, Doctor Fork, ran 33 ads on YouTube which together received more than 20 million impressions. The commercials focused on two main areas of interest: how much sensory cues (visuals of oozing cheese, for example) affect ad effectiveness, and the ideal ratio of “man vs. food” (images of humans vs. images of food) in food commercials.

“Let’s use the freedom of the unbranded ad to be wrong, to push in directions and ask questions that a brand will not, because a brand has a complex brief and very focused set of objectives,” Ben Jones, creator of Unskippable Labs, told TechCrunch.

The ads were useful in delivering some conclusions. For example, Google’s researchers found that viewers prefer “edge-to-edge” food shots in our commercials, meaning macro close-ups of a pizza that fill our whole screen do, in fact, make us drool. They also found that viewers are more tolerant of eating styles beyond “bite and smile” in food ads, indicating that food brands should perhaps loosen up a bit when it comes to the way they portray people enjoying snacks and meals. (Oooh, does this mean we can finally do away with “woman laughing alone with salad”?)

So yes, valuable insights to be sure, but at what expense? Presumably, there were some hungry YouTube viewers out there who were frustrated to find that there is, in fact, no Doctor Fork supreme pie to be had.

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