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Dream hacking: Can advertisers target our dreams?

Are companies trying to target our dreams? It might sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, but plans to inject our dreams with advertisements are already in motion.

Dream hacking: Can advertisers target our dreams?

The scope and possibilities of dream targeting

In an essay published by Aeon, three researchers from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Montreal presented some frightening findings. Their work indicated that 77% of advertisers plan to use dream tech in the next three years. In fact, there have already been numerous marketing studies to test potential ways to affect sleep behavior and hack dreams.

Molson Coors, an American-Canadian beverage conglomerate, is just one example of a company that is looking into this area. They conducted, in their own words, the “world’s largest dream study”. In exchange for a free beer, users could participate in a targeted “dream incubation” project aiming to pair Coors beer images with positive associations in people’s minds.

Coors collaborated with a Harvard psychologist to design a so-called dream-incubation stimulus. The experiment involved users watching a video of dancing beer cans and talking fish.

How does dream hacking work?

The aforementioned essay also covers the dream-affecting technology developed by the three authors. Dormio, a dream-incubation technology, pairs three sleep sensors with a digital device. Then it prompts users to think of a specific topic before going to sleep. After a certain sleeping period, Dormio awakens users with a sound and records an account of their dreams.

The resulting research paper revealed that the experiment quite reliably incorporated these pre-sleep prompts into people’s dreams. While the researchers designed Dormio for scientific and research purposes, it quickly attracted broad commercial interest.

It’s easy to see how this technology could be applied in a marketing context, encouraging people to dream of certain products and brands.

With all the money and power that advertisers currently have at their disposal, this technology is very likely to be further developed in the near future. As our lifestyles become more dependent on IoT connectivity and smart devices, it will become easier for corporations to directly influence our life experiences and to track our sleep data.

Frightening possibilities

We can already see the potential for invasive subconscious advertising. Thanks to tech and data, the future is full of exciting possibilities, but the threat of intrusive and manipulative marketing practices is equally real.

With Facebook’s Metaverse signaling a new age of digital integration, now is the time to seriously think about the kind of future we actually want. Who will regulate these areas of our lives? Can we rely on governments to protect us from big tech?

Just imagine if advertisers start seriously trying to shape and influence our dreams. This isn’t an unlikely outcome, and as such it’s one that needs serious scrutiny.