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Product Switcheroo Ad

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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. (At the very least, it's possible someone didn't like the product, or actually figured it out, and they just didn't show us that bit.)

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.


  • 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.
    • Spoofed by Regina in this commercial for one of their vacuums, where they replace a restaurant's coffee with "sand and ground up clamshells" so they can demonstrate how well the vacuum cleans up the mess.
    • Also seen in Foxtrot where Jason replaces the ground coffee with mud. Roger doesn't notice the difference.
  • 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.
  • 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 backlash from the bloggers. Full story here.
  • 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.
  • In 2014, the "Lidl Surprises" campaign in the UK had the German discount supermarket posing as a hip farmer's market in London and a gourmet tasting event in a posh villa, only to reveal the truth once customers had expressed their admiration for the food and surprise at the low prices.
  • A 2018 ad for Payless had the company put up a fake boutique store stocking their shoes at typical high fashion prices. "Palessi" was a hit among the fashionistas, and many of them were pleasantly surprised when they found out about where the shoes came from. They did issue a full refund once the jig was up, though.