"They go round to the houses of parents who aren't very good at being parents [...] and they bring them to a sealed room and they show them like a computer image of what the child will look like at the age of forty, right? And the boy always looks like me. Every week they just put up a giant picture of my face, and the parents recoil in horror! [...] Every week, this hideous future of the child, where the child is miserable, and fat, and bald. And then the parents go out feeling terrible, and then they give them a couple of carrots and they go on bicycle trips round the countryside, and they all have a much better lifestyle. And then they bring the parents back in again, and they do another "This is what your child will look like now!" And suddenly the child is smiling at forty, is slim, and, miraculously, IS NOT BALD."
—Dara O'Briain on the subject of Honey, We're Killing the Kids
You've got a product that you want to sell. What better way to sell it than showing what a difference it has made to your clients! This is especially true of beauty or health-related products, where the change might be visible. Of course, the change should be made to look as dramatic as possible. And we're not talking about merely showing realistic change, this is advertising!
Before and after photos are a staple of many sorts of advertisement, but especially diet drugs, er, we mean supplements. The need to make the change look as dramatic as possible leads to a number of standard features found in most examples, little cheats to heighten the change.
The pictures are invariably of women, unless the product is designed solely for men. If many sets of B&A pictures are used (either in a single ad or across a series of ads), a few may be men, but most will be women. The person will...
No eyeglasses! (When the ad had nothing to do with vision correction)
Naturally, you're not supposed to think about how much better the Before picture would look with all the advantages in the After.
When simply jiggering the photograph isn't enough, there are various other ways to make your product look more effective than reality can produce. Using two different models is common, but delves into Outright Lie.
Cleaning product ads often use the same kinds of tricks to make one product look more effective than another.
Given that this trope is practically universal in the appropriate advertising, only particularly blatant examples should be listed.
This sort of play is especially annoying to the scientifically-oriented-folks in the audience, because from a true comparison standpoint in science you would want the before and after pictures to be as close as possible - same lighting, same angle, same facial expression, same clothes. However the ad creators claim that this is Completely Missing the Point because some people honestly do look at the pictures and think whatever it is being sold made this person happy and better. The scientifically-oriented folks are not really their target market anyway.
See also Multi-Part Picture.
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There are usually various weird ads floating around the wiki featuring this effect. It's as if the advertisers stopped trying to make their ads reasonably plausible, and instead took Refuge in Audacity. Examples include: Different eye colours, different skin color, different gender, and one even featured a pregnant woman in the Before picture.
More "legitimate" weight loss ads used the trick of taking fit people who'd been laid up for weeks after an accident and had gained weight from being bedridden. Of course, the problem with that scenario is even with weeks of flab over them, you can tell that these aren't the chronically obese people the ad's actually targeting. An alternative approach is having the model lay down on their back in the 'after' picture to give the appearance of a flatter belly. Another is using a model who has just given birth for the "before," then as the "after" once she's lost the baby weight.
About tans: Before and After ads in the UK show pale people in the Before shot and tanned people in the After. In Canada they show tanned people in the Before shot and pale people in the After. This may be due to societal Values Dissonance.
One really evil thing they do to make these pictures is find a professional, but not widely known athlete who has been in an extensive convalescence due to injury. They will usually have put on quite a few pounds while recovering, making them nice and pudgy for the Before. But as soon as the athlete gets back into their sport, the weight falls off, but if they've been taking your drug, we mean supplement, you can claim credit!
A known trick is to actually pay unknown bodybuilders to gain weight for "before" pictures and then lose it again for the "after." The "before" pictures will show obviously muscular people with a layer of fat, while the "after" picture show them with the ripped and chiseled figures it took them years of hard training to achieve.
One company got in trouble for switching before and after pictures. The "After" was from an athlete while he as on top of his game. The "Before" was after he'd been in the hospital, dying of AIDS for months.
Sarah Haskins talking about the Botox website "...and here she is two weeks later - after she bought some makeup!"
Tooth whitener ads. Tooth. Whitener... ads. If we're to believe some such ads, the tooth whitener mysteriously straightens your teeth, as well. Others seem capable of clearing up jaundice (read: they tinted the whole picture yellow, even the skin, and if you corrected for that, the teeth would look normal).
Just For Men. Do they REALLY think that gray spray paint looks even remotely realistic?
There's a Febreeze one in the UK. The after one is a young handsome model guy in a modern primary coloured well lit house, while the before one is a fat old bald man in a brown cardigan in a brown badly lit house with 50s decor!
A series of commercials both using the same before picture of an over-weight woman, but the after photos are of two completely different women.
An ad for a weight loss product where at least one of the testimonials was accompanied by a before picture that got away with breaking most of the rules of the before picture (it was outside, and the woman, though distinctly overweight, appeared quite happy) because it was self-evidently a different woman, which you could tell because, quite apart from the different hair color and style, which could be explained away, she had a thinner face in the before picture, which couldn't.
An inversion, of a sort, occurred a few years ago where various online ads for weight-loss supplements used photos which genuinely were normal photographs of the same women, before and after they lost significant amounts of weight. Only problem was that the photos were copied without permission from weight-loss bloggers, who had not been using the supplements and who were not at all happy that their photos had been stolen.
A before and after ad for a professional photographer, admitting that they will do all of these things to make your pictures look more beautiful—and it was still a straight example, because the only major difference was that the "before" picture was scowling and the "after" picture was smiling. Also, the "before" picture was a close-up of the model's face, while the "after" was a full-body shot. Maybe the lighting was a little better in the "after", but the fact still remains that a business trying to advertise that they'll make a "before" look like an "after" essentially just told an "after" model to look stern and closed in on her face in order to make their "before".
Gay.com uses ads like this occasionally, and what's notable is that the models tend to look better in the before pics. One was for some kind of makeover special. In the "before" shot, the guy was wearing a flannel buttondown and jeans with natural hair. In the "after" pic, he had on the most hideous Flamboyant Gay outfit you can imagine, and his hair was stuck rigid with gel. Another was for some dietary supplement that helped build muscle. The man wasn't fat to begin with, and he was much more attractive before he looked like a steroid-hooked Gym Bunny.
Enzyte or Extenze should show before and after photos... har har har.
One penis pill (sold by many of the same "pharmacies" that sell black-market Viagra) actually does have before-and-after pics.
There are before and after pics of penis enhancement surgery on a porn site, only it was hard to tell which pic was supposed to be better. The after pic was certainly longer, but it also showed the side effects of penis surgery. Floppy erection.
Some of them have after photos which are the result of highly sophisticated Photoshop manipulation. By which is meant they zoomed in.
Ads for cleaning products. They show, for example, someone using an ordinary mop to clean an ordinary, somewhat dirty floor. For their miracle product, they use an absolutely filthy floor. This makes their product seem better because the contrast is so much greater, so the floor looks cleaner.
Occurs in a British stairlift advert of all places. It begins by showing a dear old lady being forced to move in to a one-story house (complete with her gazing sadly out of the window at the rain), but immediately becomes sunny and happy when a stair lift is introduced to her home.
Some ads shown in the back of Consumer Reports. One example was for a car dent removal service that used different makes of truck. The logos were in the photo.
Another pair of photos showed how much better your house would look with new shutters — and new paint, and new landscaping, and a photo taken on a sunny day.
An ad advertised a product for clearing snow off of a road. Between the two pictures, the road completely changed direction and a bunch of trees mysteriously grew up by the side of the road.
One ad for mattresses showed before and after pictures intended to show how well rested the couple looked after sleeping on the mattress. Sleeping in the mattress resulted in the woman waking up with a completely different man with a better haircut and a six-pack. That might have been an intentional joke.
One Urban Legend or riddle involves a simple three-panel billboard for a drink. In the first, a man looks terrible as if he is dying of thirst in the desert. Then he is shown drinking the product. Then he is happy. However, the story is that this was told left-to-right, but the ad was displayed in Arab nations where they read right-to-left... There is a version of the story where the billboard is for a laundromat, with the pictures showing a dirty cloth, a man taking it to the laundromat and finally a clean cloth. The punchline (billboard gets displayed in right-to-left-reading Arab nations) is the same.
A hair-restoring ad shows one where the "before" picture is looking downwards and wearing a shirt with a very loose neck, and the "after" picture is looking straight at the camera, wearing a turtleneck. Not sure what the shirt part was about, but the difference in shirts was too extreme to be coincidental.
In one of Jay Leno's Headlines books, there's a picture where obviously the layout person lost a part of the clipart model's hand as the ad was being assembled (this was before computer layouts), leading Leno to remark "Of course the plan made her lose weight! They cut off her hand!"
Proactiv, the acne treatment, uses this in their before/after images. Before, the picture is taken like a passport photo: full-frontal, no smile, dull expression, either with fluorescent lighting or not enough lighting. The after images always have the head tilted slightly to one side, adding a little more personality, with a happy expression and with better lighting.
Anime and Manga
In the very first chapter of Girls Saurus, a hulking monster confesses her love to the title character only to beat him to a pulp when he recoils from the horror. Guess who he meets 1 month later after her diet? 
In this Dilbert comic, Dogbert models for a hair-growth product and borrows Dilbert's razor to take "before" shots.
This one has Dogbert preparing a story about how engineering makes you sexier. He needs a completely new person for "after" pictures
In the short-lived comic Unfit, the male physical trainer protagonist films a commercial for fitness equipment. The producers say they'll be back in six weeks to film the "Before" shots and advise him to eat as much cake as possible.
In a Gaston Lagaffe comic, when Gaston answered an ad for a model for a hair regrowth potion ad. They took the "after" photo, shaved him, then took the "before" one.
In Love And Rockets, there is a scene where Maggie laments over getting too fat, telling that she turned herself into a "before" woman from the weight loss ads.
Alfred Hitchcock was known for making a cameo appearance in each of his films. His 1944 film Lifeboat, however, posed a challenge: the entire story took place on a small lifeboat adrift in the middle of the Atlantic, so there was no logical or natural way for Hitch to pop up...until somebody hit on the brilliant idea of having him appear in a fake newspaper ad◊ for a fictional weight-loss drug called "Reduco".
The documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster went into this in a fair amount of detail. It showed how advertisers for diet and health supplements will use many of the listed techniques at the top of the page. The host then participates in a worked photo shoot where Before and After photos are taken mere minutes apart (which, according to at least one photographer, was not unusual). The real difference was body language, better lighting, a spray tan (including having six-pack abs painted on), and good ol' Photoshop.
In the film Toys, Robin Williams' character Leslie Zevo finds one of the photocopier pictures taken of the toy company's new secretary along with his cousin-in-law Patrick and says it's a "before-and-after picture of Michael Jackson."
This idea is used as a scam in Tin Men. BB and Mo pretend to be taking pictures of a house for Life magazine, and tell the owner's wife her house is going to be the "before" picture in a spread on how much better houses look with aluminum siding. Naturally, the wife doesn't want her house to be the "before" picture...
There is a Russian joke about two busted drug dealers who are earning their pardon by dissuading people from taking drugs. The first one shows them a picture with two circles: a small one and a one three times larger - and telling them the circles represent relative sizes of their brains before and after drug abuse. The second one uses the same picture but with swapped circles and tells his interviewees that the circles represent the relative sizes of their arseholesbefore and after the drugsget them into jail.
Honey, We're Killing the Kids is a reality show that teaches families how to live healthier lifestyles. Each episode starts with the parents being shown pictures of their kids artificially aged, and told "this is what your kids will look like in thirty years with their current lifestyle." The subjects are fat and have bad skin — and ugly clothes, messy hair, and slack, stupid facial expressions. At the end, after learning how to exercise and eat healthier food, the parents are shown new pictures of their artificially-aged kids — and this time they're smiling, made-up, and dressed well in addition to being thinner.
Really like this in You Are What You Eat which takes overweight people and changes their diet and lifestyle. At the start they put him under a light (thus creating shadows), in unflattering underwear and looking very unhappy. At the end they're in new clothes with some sort of filter over the lens and of course, they're very happy.
In the pilot of Ugly Betty, Amanda's first words to Betty were "Hi, are you 'the before'?" When Betty looked confused, she added "'Before and after'? The photo shoot?"
An old Honeymooners sketch on The Jackie Gleason Show has Ralph winning a trip to Europe in a write-in contest sponsored by a diet food company, with the catch that he has to send in "before and after" photos of himself to prove he actually uses their product. He attempts to use Ed Norton as a stand-in for the "after" picture, with predictable lack of success.
On The Odd Couple Oscar (in a fat suit) was hired by Felix as a last-minute replacement for the before half of a before-and-after shoot, after "the fattest man in the world" refused to do it.
Community had an episode where they put up a before and after of a space simulator. Inverted in that the before of the simulator is the nicer of the two.
Discussed on The Gruen Transfer for doing cosmetic ads. Apparently, the best way to fake this while keeping clear of truth in advertising laws is to send the model to a spa/hotel and pamper them for a week (and make them drink lots of water).
Both Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin' used this to show the vehicle of the week before it was customized and after. In fact, Pimp My Ride had three episodes with two "before" pictures: one of the client's original car (which was then deemed unsuitable for pimping) and the car they replaced it with (which served as the "after" when the pimping was finished).
This video shows how dramatically different "before and after" pictures can be taken less than 5 hours apart. The trick is to take the "after" picture first, then take the "before" picture a few hours later, after consuming a lot of salty foods and soda to give yourself a bloated stomach. Add in the camera, lighting, and pose tricks described above, as well as a bit of Photoshop, and you're good to go.
An episode of The Flintstones has Fred getting work as the "before" picture in one such ad.
The Goof Troop episode "As Goof Would Have It" features Pete attempting to win a weight loss contest by submitting before-and-after pictures to prove he "lost 180 pounds." The "after" picture he has in mind is Goofy, whom he expects to impersonate him. Even accounting for weight differences, Pete and Goofy look nothing alike, mainly because Pete is a cat and Goofy is a dog.
Disney's Platinum DVD of Sleeping Beauty claims to have a "Never-Before Seen Expanded Version" of the film, complete with before/after frames. While there is some truth to this (the film is remastered in the full 2.55:1 negative ratio, whereas previously it was cropped to the more conventional 2.35:1), the 'Before' picture is from a 4:3 pan-and-scanned version.
Referenced in a scene deleted from the episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled" from The Simpsons. Krusty is informed by the network executives that his show is replaced by a hemorrhoid infomercial starring Claude Akins. Krusty asks to play "hemorrhoid sufferer number one" and starts acting out the role. The executives leave and Krusty desperately asks to be an after model, getting into that role as well.
Abused when Turner, Inc. had the 1930's Fleischer Popeye cartoons retraced and colored. The end result animation was choppy and much of the old detail was lost - so when they showed off the new product, the "Before" footage was the new footage shown in black and white!
In an early episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants,SpongeBob is watching a commercial for a product called Anchor Arms. (Rubber gloves that could be inflated to give the appearance of big muscles.) The shark in the commercial is pretty ripped, but he holds up a picture of a skinnyNerdy shark, saying he used to look like that. (It's heavily implied that the nerdy shark in the picture is actually a different shark than the one hawking the product.)
In an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bullwinkle is told by an acting coach (Boris in disguise) to change his image to appear in a movie and he holds up two pictures, a cleaned-up spiff and a dirtied-up beatnik. Boris reminds him that the spiff is the "before" picture ("You mean he looks like this on purpose?").