Burger King and Xbox might just advertise their products in your dreams, and that too without a skip button.
If you’ve ever prepped for a test right before bedtime, you may have done something dream researchers have been pursuing for decades: coaxing knowledge into dreams. In the lab, such approaches have shown some promise. Now, companies ranging from Xbox to Burger King are collaborating with researchers to try something similar: inserting adverts into the dreams of willing customers using video and audio samples.
An open letter signed by 40 sleep researchers has been sent to legislators urging them to regulate targeted dream incubation or commercial dream manipulation. The researchers wrote in their letter that TDI advertising is a “slippery slope with actual implications,” not a “fun gimmick.”
Planting dreams in people’s heads to market items, let alone addictive substances, present serious ethical concerns. Our dreams cannot be turned into a commercial playground for corporations.
Dream incubation, in which people modify their nighttime visions with images, music, or other sensory clues, has a long history. Through meditation, painting, praying, and even drug usage, people all across the ancient world devised rituals and strategies to alter the content of their dreams. In the fourth century B.C.E., sick Greeks would lie on mud beds in the temples of the god Asclepius, hoping to undergo enkoimesis, a dream state in which their cure would be revealed.
Modern science has ushered in an entirely new realm of possibilities. By monitoring brain waves, eye movements, and even snoring, researchers can now determine when most individuals enter the period of sleep when most of our dreaming occurs—the rapid eye movement (REM) state. They’ve also demonstrated that external inputs including noises, odors, lighting, and speech, can change the content of dreams. This year, researchers contacted lucid dreamers who were awake while dreaming and asked them to answer questions and complete math problems while they slept.
Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard University dream researcher, has also received corporate attention for her work. She encouraged 66 college students taking a dream class in 1993 to choose a personal or academic difficulty, write it down, and ponder about it every night for at least a week before going to bed. Nearly half of the participants said they had nightmares about the condition by the end of the study. In a study published in Science in 2000, Harvard neuroscientists asked people to play the computer game Tetris for three days and discovered that slightly more than 60% of the participants had dreams about the game.
According to the letter authors, Molson Coors, the parent company of Coors, Blue Moon, and Miller beers, employed TDI to promote people’s dreams in the days preceding up to the Super Bowl.
According to a press release from Molson Coors, they encouraged consenting volunteers to watch a “dream-inducing video” made with the help of a sleep expert that included visuals and sounds of “waterfalls, mountains, and, of course, Coors” before falling asleep.
Participants may also receive a free 12-pack of Coors if they shared a link to the video with a friend, allowing them to have their dreams realized as well.
Despite the fact that dream engineering now necessitates our active participation, sleep researchers worry that this could herald in a new dark world where companies use passive TDI methods such as smart speakers.
This might turn into a slippery slope where we’re no longer protected from major corporations even when we’re sleeping, which is enough to keep anyone awake at night.