Targeted Dream Incubation: Advertisers want to intrude into your dreams
Imagine a dream where famed marketers conspire to craftily persuade you to buy their products in real life. This surreal context is not a prediction of a distant future with ultra-modern technology. Three researchers at Harvard, MIT and the University of Montreal published their work on Aeon alarming that 77 percent of marketers from different firms in the USA plan to use dream-tech advertising in the next three years.
Dream incubation is not an unprecedented concept. Ancient Egyptian and Greek civilization, and today’s yogic as well as shamanic practices, have leaned on dream experiments to conduct spiritual healing and therapeutic sessions. In contrast to such mystic practices, modern-day advertisers have centered their dream experiments on fulfilling the insatiable capitalistic desire to sell ‘more and more’ products by hook or crook.
Molson Coors’ World’s Largest Dream Study
Molson Coors, a beverage company, conducted the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Largest Dream Study’ in 2021. The night before Super Bowl Sunday, the company sought to use ‘Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI)’ to infiltrate the dreams of nearly 100 million Super Bowl viewers. They conspicuously made an effort to juxtapose Coors beer with refreshing imagery (waterfalls, alpine rivers, mountains) in the dreams of people.
Deirdre Barrett, Dream Psychologist affiliated to Harvard University, joined hands with Molson Coors to design a dream-incubation stimuli using visual and auditory illustrations. Participants were enticed with discount offers if they referred the experiment to friends who would be willing to take part in it. The company even had pop star Zayn Malik participate in the experiment who streamed it live on Instagram; he mentioned the project being ‘kinda messed up’.
Here, the dire question at hand is: Should corporate advertisers be allowed to invade our dreamscape? Beyond the mesmeric factor of dream incubation, ethical considerations come into play. David Lawson, the visual artist involved in creating the incubation stimuli, himself is reticent when it comes to the question of ethics. Owing to the ‘addictive’ and ‘socially-destructive’ connotations when abused, alcoholic beverages are often barred from advertising to the general mass. Molson Coors’ attempt at influencing the subconscious of viewers is a ‘one-finger-salute’ to the restriction imposed on advertising its beer amidst the NFL game.
Beware of your Dreams!!
A group of sleep and dream researchers published an open letter warning the potential threat of using targeted dream incubation. The letter stated that “TDI-advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences. The potential for misuse of these technologies is as ominous as it is obvious.”
Contemporary sleep and dream studies have contended that the human brain is conditioned to review memories of real-life events during sleep hours. A fraction of such memories is hard-wired into the subconscious. Consequently, people are prone to making real life decisions based on the thought process during their sleep. Researchers have even maintained that some people make creative discoveries after waking up, due to the content of their dreams. However, corporate advertisers have no interest whatsoever in enhancing your creativity; they solely want to sell their products.
A major threat posed by TDI is its potential to manipulate the human brain on a subliminal level. Modern-day technology is such that companies can remotely access devices that are casually placed by people at their home. Humankind might possibly see a day when advertisers broadcast audio triggers through smart speakers like Alexa, or smartphones to infiltrate into your dreams.
Nevertheless, the current state of dream incubation does not seem as preposterous as Leonardo DiCaprio, along with his team of professional dream extractors, embarking on an espionage mission in Cillian Murphy’s dream to dissolve his father’s company. TDI has its fair share of boon; psychologists have practiced this method in hopes of palliating disorders like PTSD and substance use.
Are we not barraged with abundant advertisements while awake though? Do we really need to succumb to the corporate advertisement game in our sleep too? Perhaps, it is about time somebody starts envisioning a hi-tech cognitive ad-blocker that lets you dream free of ads.