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Product Switcheroo Ad
An Advertising Trope. The idea is very simple. Set up fake circumstances to present a supposedly higher-end product to patrons. Then reveal that the supposedly higher-end product is actually the leading lower-end brand! The consumer will be amazed that they were willing to pay more for their pizza/coffee/computer. Capture the whole thing on camera, and you've got a great Product Switcheroo Ad!

The most popular example of this is the "fake restaurant" premise. Patrons think they are in a high-end restaurant, eating high-end food, and at the end of the meal they are told that the amazing burger they just had is actually just a $4 burger from Burger Chain X. Sometimes prior to the reveal, they will ask the patron how much they think the burger is worth. Expect the consumer to say a price somewhere between 3 and 4 times the actual price of the meal.

But this can apply to any product. The idea is to show that the "cheaper" product is worth more than people think it is, but they don't have to pay more.

To more savvy consumers, the whole thing comes off as extremely condescending. We know that the "chefs" in the back are putting a lot more effort into that burger than they are at Burger Chain X down the street. We know the fake staff is working extra hard to provide excellent service, so the patron is in an unbelievably good mood.

It's also feasible that some of these reactions are due to the Placebo Effect. If people are expecting haute cuisine, they're going to find it in whatever they're given.

Then there's the possibility that it's fully scripted and full of actors, or semi-staged using employees or company shareholders who get a free meal. Multiple camera angles, dialogue sounding too scripted. But if that has yet to be proven, the mind sitting closer to the shiny side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism might be able to dismiss that possibility.

Remember, it doesn't have to be food... it can be any product. As long as the consumer is led to believe that the product is worth more/high quality at the beginning of the ad and is "pleasantly" surprised when they find out it's a familiar (often cheaper) product.

Not to be confused with Fake Food. Also not to be confused with Commercial Switcheroo. Compare Worked Shoot, which is what this ad would be if it were indeed staged. Since most countries have laws against claiming "hidden camera" when the commercial is scripted, we have to assume they are real until proven otherwise.


Examples:

  • Carl's Jr/Hardees did a series of these for their $6 Burgers, complete with a website. They did at one point mix it up by having the "chef" actually carry Carl's Jr bags through the restaurant into the kitchen, which alerted the patrons something was up.
    • The consumers usually say the burger was worth $15 or $16, which means this was probably filmed in a downtown area (think New York or San Francisco), where people expect to pay more for a regular old hamburger. Very hard for the rest of America to relate to the idea of a $15 burger.
  • Pizza Hut has done several of these masquerading as a high-end Italian restaurant, promoting their new pasta dishes.
  • The Ur Example here: We've secretly replaced this fine restaurant's coffee with Folger's Crystals. Let's see if they notice.
    • These ads were so popular at the time, they were actually spoofed by a vacuum cleaner company.
      Announcer: We've just replaced their usual coffee with sand and ground-up clamshells. Let's see if they notice. *cut to people spitting coffee out on the floor, while someone demonstrates how well the vaccuum cleans it up*
    • Also seen in Foxtrot where Jason replaces the ground coffee with mud. Roger doesn't notice the difference.
    • Used more than once in MST 3 K jokes
    • And in Penny Arcade.
    • Magnificently spoofed on Saturday Night Live in this sketch where Chris Farley goes batshit after the reveal.
    • Also referenced in the U.S. Acres cartoon "Roy Gets Sacked", where Roy replaces Lanolin's regular coffee with soap crystals.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! explored this in an episode (The Best), that featured an entire fake restaurant, with supposedly haute cuisine that was actually being prepared in the back alley from ingredients bought at a convenience store.
    • They also did one with bottled water, where it was just water from a hose in the back, put in plastic bottle with fake fancy French names on them. One of which included a large dead spider, a la a tequila worm.
  • The Gruen Transfer discussed this kind of ad, particularly the Pizza Hut example, in the second season. One panellist insisted that the situation shown must be real, because it is illegal to claim something was filmed with a hidden camera when it is actually scripted. He did, however, observe that the only patrons you see on the ad are those who are being the most positive, and anyone who had anything less than glowing to say ended up on the cutting room floor.
  • Microsoft used this when they set up the Mojave Experiment, which led consumers to believe they were trying a new (and amazing) operating system called Mojave. Lo and behold, it was just the much-reviled Windows Vista OS. This one gets some credit though, because the people obviously know they're being filmed beforehand and their reactions seem fairly realistic.
  • Suave (hair products): 2010 ad.
  • In late Summer of 2011, a group of food bloggers were invited to a lasagna dinner they were told was prepared by celebrity chef George Duran. After dinner, which the diners presumably enjoyed, it was revealed to them that the lasagna was actually a frozen dinner by Marie Callender. The diners, after spending part of the dinner railing against processed foods on a hidden camera, were not amused. The footage was likely to be used for an ad, which was cancelled after the Internet Backlash from the bloggers. Full story here.
  • A recent one that's been making the rounds as of summer 2012; patrons at a seemingly high-end steakhouse are being served steaks that they are later told came from Wal-mart's meat department. The customers whose comments aired appeared to be very pleasantly surprised.

By the way, I'll bet you thought this site was TV Tropes. But it's not. It's actually 4Chan! Aren't you surprised?
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