Trivia

Hard

What Distinctly Non-Food Item Do Photographers Use In Cereal Ads?

Glass Dust
White Paint
Polyurethane Spray
Elmer's Glue
A promotional photo of breakfast cereal with fake glue milk.
National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia

Answer: Elmer’s Glue

There’s something just a slight bit uncanny about the milk in cereal advertisements. It’s so brilliantly white, opaque, and the cereal sits so precisely in it. You might be tempted to think that it’s a bit of Photoshop wizardry when in fact it’s a trick far older than Photoshop.

It’s glue. For years, food stylists have used Elmer’s glue, the same milky white stuff that school kids like to make a mess with, in place of milk. It’s richer looking, it’s thicker and stays put better, and best of all, its thickness allows you to position elements (like individual pieces of cereal and fruit toppings) with the kind of precision a successful photo shoot requires.

But in a strange way, it’s kind of full circle. If you remember Elmer’s glue from your childhood, you might recall that the company logo is a bull. The logo is a bull (which seems a bit odd when you think about it) because the original formulation of Elmer’s glue used casein, a byproduct of milk. Today, the glue is completely synthetic with no milk byproduct (or any other animal products in it), but for a brief period in advertising history, cereal was photographed in milk-derived glue.

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