Science | July 5, 2021 3:01 pm

Scientists Object To a New Advertising Medium — Dreams

Think "Mad Men" meets "Inception"

Are your dreams the next space to feature advertising?
Quin Stevenson/Unsplash

In 2021, advertising can take many forms. You might see a television commercial or billboard; a video you watch online could feature a commercial or a sponsorship. Watch a sporting event closely enough and you might even see a corporate message added to the broadcast after the fact. And you might end up seeing ads in console video games before long. Are there any spaces left where one can go without seeing ads? Surely sleeping is one of the few experiences one can have without some sort of commercial message.

You’d think so, anyway. But a new article by Adam Gabbatt at The Guardian suggests dreams might well be the next territory for advertising. The article cites a recent ad campaign from Coors, which offered people the chance to “dream the Coors Big Game ad,” in the words of the company’s press release. The overall impression suggests a version of Inception were Leonardo DiCaprio and company were tasked with making people drink more beer.

The idea of dreams as a proving ground for advertising has alarmed a number of scientists, according to The Guardian‘s report. “Anything you could imagine an advertising campaign for, at all, could arguably be enhanced by weaponizing sleep,” said Bob Stickgold, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

An open letter signed by dozens of scientists raised alarms over targeted dream incubation, or TDI. “Our dreams cannot become just another playground for corporate advertisers,” they write — and go on to raise concerns over smart speakers being used for TDI. They also point out that alcoholics in recovery and people who have quit smoking might be especially vulnerable to advertising in their dreams.

The objections raised by the scientists hit home in a number of ways. And while this is currently opt-in, their concerns that it could become more active seem warranted. Still, it remains to be seen if dream advertising is a bold new frontier or an experiment that’s run its course.