Advertisers trying to target your dreams

"Dream incubation advertising" is an experimental marketing technique that uses audio and video to shape the content of your dreams. The journal Science surveys the field and reports on a group of legit dream researchers "calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation," which does have some real science behind it. For example, earlier this year research from Northwestern University cognitive scientists showed that it's possible to have real-time dialogue between dreamers in the midst of REM sleep and those in the awake world. From Science:

Work by Harvard University dream researcher Deirdre Barrett has also attracted corporate attention. In a 1993 study, she asked 66 college students taking a class on dreams to select a problem of personal or academic relevance, write it down, and think about it each night for at least a week before going to bed. At the end of the study, nearly half reported having dreams related to the problem. Similar work published in 2000 in Science, in which Harvard neuroscientists asked people to play several hours of the computer game Tetris for 3 days, found that slightly more than 60% of the players reported having dreams about the game.

This year, Barrett consulted with the Molson Coors Beverage Company on an online advertising campaign that ran during the Super Bowl. Following her instructions, Coors, which features mountains and waterfalls on its logo, had 18 people (12 of them paid actors) watch a 90-second video featuring flowing waterfalls, cool mountain air, and Coors beer right before falling asleep. According to a YouTube video documenting the effort, when the participants awoke from REM sleep, five reported dreaming about Coors beer or seltzer. (The result remains unpublished.)

Barrett told Science she does not consider the intervention to be a real "experiment," and she acknowledged in a recent blog post that the company's ad used scientific terminology "with overtones [of] mind-control experimentation," against her advice. She also thinks advertising strategies like these will have little practical impact. "Of course you can play ads to someone as they are sleeping, but as far as having much effect, there is little evidence." Dream incubation "doesn't seem very cost effective" compared with traditional advertising campaigns, she says.

That doesn't mean that future attempts couldn't do better, says Antonio Zadra, a dream researcher at the University of Montreal who signed the statement [calling for regulation]. "We can see the waves forming a tsunami that will come, but most people are just sleeping on a beach unaware," he says.

"Are advertisers coming for your dreams?" by Sofia Moutinho (Science)