Be on the Outlook for Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI)

Earlier this year, Coors Brewing launched a new ad campaign designed to infiltrate people’s dreams. The goal, of course, was to get people to buy Coors beer,

Coors encouraged people to watch a short online video before bed, then play an eight-hour “soundscape” through the night. If successful, this “targeted dream incubation” would trigger “refreshing dreams” of Coors, according to the company.

Here’s the video:

Bob Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard medical school, is one of the co-authors of a recent open letter that sounded the alarm over companies using targeted dream incubation (TDI). The letter was signed by 35 sleep and dream researchers from around the world.

“TDI-advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences,” the letter warned. “The potential for misuse of these technologies is as ominous as it is obvious.”

The concept of dream incubation – “techniques employed during wakefulness to help a person dream about a specific topic” – has been around for thousands of years, according to researchers.

In the more recent past, Salvador Dalí was given to the practice of holding a spoon while napping, in an attempt to enhance his creativity. When Dalí began to fall into a deeper slumber, and hopefully dream, the spoon would drop from his hand onto a pre-positioned dinner plate, waking him up in a state where he could remember the images or scenes he had – briefly – dreamt.

Over the past decade, research has shown that people’s dreams can be more targeted, and that humans can be highly susceptible to thoughts or ideas introduced while they sleep.

A 2014 study found that smokers exposed to the smell of cigarettes and rotten eggs while they slept smoked 30% fewer cigarettes during the following week, while Stickgold said other work had shown that racial bias can be reduced by targeted dream incubation.

While much of the research so far has been aimed at positive results, scientists fear the threat of dream advertising is real, and in an increasingly wired world it is not likely to be limited to willing participation.

To sell a project involuntarily through dreams, the potential advertising campaign would have to be linked to adverts people see while they are awake.

Stickgold said it could potentially be done by playing a certain sound every time a product – a Coors beer, or a Corrs album, for example – is seen during a television or YouTube advert.

Replaying that sound while someone is sleeping, potentially through a home device, would, in theory, then trigger dreams about how nice it would be to drink a beer, or listen to an Irish guitar and violin-driven musical ensemble. For example, advertisers could pay to have Alexa play such sounds at 2.30 in the morning.

The June letter called for stricter regulation on advertising, to prevent products from being thrust into dreams. Stickgold said the Federal Trade Commission already restricts some subliminal advertising, such as the flashing of words or images during films or TV shows, and would be able to intervene. And TDI might fall under such a regulation.

Here is a three-minute video for those of you who are interested in some additional behind-the-scenes info about this advertising campaign. I am quite surprised, given that this video was prepared by Coors, that they left in a clip that asks someone if he thinks this is ethical, and he never gives an answer.

Personally, I’d like to voluntarily participate in such an experiment, just to see if it worked.

But I’m not sure I want Alexa secretly saying things in the middle of the night that are meant for my wife, but may cause me to go out shopping for a dress the next morning for myself…

72 thoughts on “Be on the Outlook for Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI)

  1. Hmmm….this is what happens when we have too much technology available. Interesting but I can see how it could be misused.
    I don’t need any help with my dreams they get crazy enough sometimes!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. TDI sounds interesting, but I don’t think I understand the concept. If TDI requires that people voluntarily listen to something while sleeping, why would anyone do that? If companies can advertise through Alexa while people sleep, that seems like a reason not to get Alexa or turn it off. If TDI can get people to buy stuff they otherwise wouldn’t, I wonder if it can get people to do other things.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is just great. I got a Tivo to deal with all the ads on TV, and now it looks like I’m going to need a Tivo for my dreams. Does TDI come with a mute button, at least? And will the same stupid dream be played over and over in my head, like the same stupid ads play over and over on TV?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I find the whole idea of planting dreams a little disturbing though I suppose it’s not that different than advertisers who use subtle advertising tricks to get us to buy something when we’re wide awake. I usually don’t remember my dreams anyway, but I like the concept of going to sleep and not knowing what I’m going to dream about.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I remember discussions in school about subliminal advertising, but this seems to go much further. not sure I’m on board with this, but interesting that a company is doing it/considering it. I feel like i have a rich dream life already, but I find the research interesting. I heard a long discussion on npr last year with scientists doing some work with volunteers who they would wake up many times during the night and ask about what they were dreaming about at various points of sleep. they kept meticulous records and this was the beginning stages of them working toward ‘reading someone’s mind’, for use in helping those who may have suffered strokes and could not communicate, etc. They also pointed out that in the wrong hands, if they mastered this, it could be used in negative ways for people wanting information out of others, such as spies, soldiers, suspects, etc.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. that soundsl ike fascinating research, and that seems like a positive use of dream research. this stuff with trying to advertise to people while they are sleeping seems to go too far. It will be interesting to see if the FTC steps into the debate…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I, like Pete, never recall my dreams, so this would be unlikely to shape my purchases. However, I do see where this could be misused to the detriment of either a willing or unwilling public. As is the case for most innovation and discovery. I would like to think we would choose to allow our dreams to be the one remaining bastion of pure subconscious release, unprompted by technology or Fifth Ave. Maybe sleep should remain the one placed we are just not “plugged in”.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s all a bit ‘Manchurian Candidate’ isn’t it! Potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, but probably already being used by the murkier government departments (let’s start a conspiracy theory!). But I think it would take a lot more than this to make me drink American beer 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t remember if I have seen the Manchurian Candidate, but if I have, I can’t remember anything about it. May have to pt it on my watch list.

      And I’ll drink any beer; some days there’s nothing like a Bud, the classic lawnmower beer…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The original starred Frank Sinatra and is a classic. They remade it some years ago with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, but I haven’t seen that one.

        Best use for a Bud I can think of, there. Moisten the lawnmower blades with it…

        Liked by 1 person

            1. was just watching Federer – it’s not looking good. And I haven’t had a beer in over six months because of some meds I am on. Hopefully I’ll be off them at some point..

              and it’s amazing that England has yet to allow a goal…

              Liked by 1 person

              1. He just didn’t look himself. I fear that may be the last time we see him here. After all he’s been through with injuries and operations he may well decide that it’s time to stop. He’s nearly 40, and few last that long at the top.

                That amazes me too!

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. I hope I’m wrong. It would be good to see him back next year, but after he was knocked out Murray was quoted as saying ‘is it all worth it?’ and Federer must be thinking that. There’s still the Olympics and US Open this year, so he may well play those before making any decisions. I admire all three, but don’t really favour any of them.

                    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting stuff, Jim. Sometimes I have difficulty turning off (in my mind) a disturbing movie that I’ve just watched, and before I go to sleep I have to tell myself to not dream it. Sometimes when I awaken after dreaming something disturbing, I tell myself to not continue the dream when I go back to sleep. So I think I can understand the theory of telling oneself what to dream about, though I’ve never tried that. I do remember a lot of ‘hype’ about subliminal messages in advertising back in the (possibly) late 60s and early 70s. I find the thought of someone else having control of my mind quite terrifying and definitely wouldn’t volunteer for this type of a study.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is a bit concerning. and have you been successful in trying to stop yourself from dreaming certain things? I also remember all the talk of subliminal advertising, and it’s interesting that we have government regulations regarding such advertising…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I have been successful in not continuing the dreams. I don’t remember a lot of dreams though, which is a good thing as the ones I do remember are not always pleasant.
        I think some of those regulations are for the best. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          1. It was on Fox. It was one season long, then it got cancelled. They have episodes online on the network’s website, but it starts with episode six, which seems ridiculous to me. Looks like the full season may be on Hulu.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Back in the 80s a friend got really interested in targeting his dreams. He and others would try to link up mutually in their dreams. He made it sound like he had some success, but I didn’t buy it and I didn’t press it. Personally, I cycle through the same three dreams night after night. They all deal with viewing myself as lost or broken. Sounds depressing, but it really doesn’t bother me like it should.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yea, I don’t think I would your friend’s story either. That seems odd that you have the same three dreams over and over. It would seem like they are trying to tell you something…

      Liked by 1 person

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