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Many people watch the Super Bowl just for the ads. A new ad campaign launching during the big game aims to target East Coast residents in a new way - through their dreams.
To cut through the noise of advertising, Molson Coors has teamed up with Dr. Deirdre Barrett, a leading psychologist from Harvard Medical School whose expertise is in dreams, hypnosis, and imagery, to use the science of guiding dreams for what they believe is the very first time in advertising.
Coors has created a film with specific audio and visual stimuli, including an eight-hour soundscape to play throughout the night, with the hope of connecting consumers to the brand by triggering them to dream what they are calling the Coors Big Game Dream, in time for the Super Bowl.
Like during a football game, advertisers are trying to scream over each other for attention, to have their voices heard, says Garrick Frittelli, senior marketing manager for the Coors family of brands in Canada.
With the stress of the past year, and the anticipation that often comes the night before the big game, Coors wanted to find a way for consumers to have refreshing dreams, he says. This induces relaxing images including waterfalls, mountains, and, naturally, Coors.
Science of dreams
Dreaming is still mysterious, says Dr. Ken Leslie, a psychology professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., whose specialty is neuroscience. He taught a sleep and dreaming course last term.
"We know it is associated with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep," he says.
"REM is an unusual brain state with unique activity. That means that dreams are hard to remember when we wake up, and although we dream every night, most dreams are forgotten if they are not immediately written down."
It's not clear if targeting the dream state is going to achieve what advertisers want, however, says Leslie.
"Coors, though, is using science, in that there is good evidence that incubation and intention can influence dreaming," explains Leslie. There is data that shows that external stimuli, like a soundscape played to participants while they are sleeping, can lead to dream incorporation.
"So, there is a good chance that participants will experience something," he says.
At the moment, Leslie doesn’t think this form of advertising is harmful. Dr. Barrett, he says, has a good reputation and has been studying dreams for a long time.
"It is a fun and creative way to use what we know to create the conditions for a shared dream experience," he adds.
“Yes, maybe some Super Bowl fans want to meet some Coors girls in their dreams, and that's OK and not harmful - dream sex is the safest sex there is."
How advertising works
Sleep learning work has been researched since the early 1900s, says Lyle Wetsch, an associate professor of marketing at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L. That's essentially what marketers are trying to have participants do - create an environment and create recall association, which has been somewhat validated through several studies over the years.
It was a craze into the 1930s, and then in the 1950s, it did not meet the test with EEG monitors showing brain activity, so the ‘learning’ element has pretty much been eliminated, he explains.
Wetsch says there have been studies in the last decade, however, that have connected smells and other associations through their sleep, such as a particular sound or odour.
The goal of ads is to bias our neural networks to build associations between the product and human goals, like pleasure or victory, explains Leslie. And, of course, it's easiest for the ads to have an effect when we are awake and can see the ads and form the associations.
“Advertising does work, especially when people have limited time and attention to make decisions. It's easier to just go with your impulse, which can be influenced by advertising,” he says.
The question, says Wetsch, is whether this dream incubation study of Coors can be called advertising or not.
“It is more like a product that the consumers are purchasing from Coors, for free, and that the company is being upfront about what the intent is,” says Wetsch.
That's why this type of ad cannot be considered subliminal messaging. Used to influence people without their being aware of what the messenger is doing, explains Wetsch, in 1988, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications (CRTC) outlawed this form of advertising.
"The difference would be if there was a company that was selling an app to aid in sleep that then sold messaging spots to companies to have it played to people in their sleep," says Wetsch.
In this case, individuals are choosing to access this content, knowing what the intent is, and they are choosing to consume it. If the video was trying to hide the messaging and represent itself as one thing while attempting something else, then that would be a concern, says Wetsch.
This advertisement is voluntary, agrees Frittelli. Consumers can choose whether they’d like to view and listen to the stimulus which triggers the dream.
Coors refers to this advertisement as a "dream study," because, as Wetsch says, they are trying to see if anything is perceived.
Coors will not be capturing any personal data, Frittelli says. Some people may be curious about what they could potentially experience, while others are happy to just read about other people's dreams.
The entire advertising experiment may just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people go to sleep thinking they are going to see a commercial, they might likely create one in their mind, says Wetsch.
"It is true that dreams do respond to intention," says Leslie, "so it is possible that some people could have a Coors dream in anticipation of the Super Bowl, especially with the help of intention and stimuli aimed at promoting dream incorporation."
These individuals, he says, are most likely already superfans.
If Coors were to do this type of ad annually, Leslie says there is the possibility it could grow into something with more momentum and participation.
"That could improve the odds of dream incubation, and that would be kind of interesting," he says.
One thing to note is that although alcohol can be a sedative, it also disrupts sleep - particularly REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming, explains Leslie.
"So, people ideally shouldn't drink before bed, as that can disrupt their sleep, and have negative consequences for their health. It's especially problematic to regularly use alcohol as a sleep aid," he says.
But, dreaming about beer? That’s OK.
Leslie says it’s hard to say if dream advertising will become a wave of the future. There are ways to become more aware of and engaged with our dream life, and technology could augment that possibility, he says.
For now, he sees it more as a form of fan engagement, a gimmick. Or, as Wetsch says, a way to create a buzz in the media and to get people talking about the brand.
The reality is, that's what Super Bowl ads are about anyway, says Wetsch - winning the ‘water cooler talk’ the next day.
"It is more likely the connections and brand recall being created by the media attention and stories will far exceed any sleep messaging being delivered," says Wetsch.