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Selling to the subconscious: Should more marketers use 'dreamvertising'?

By Amy Kean, head of futures

August 13, 2015 | 4 min read

There aren't enough hours in the day is a familiar refrain in advertising, so what if brands could talk to you in your sleep? Havas Media's head of futures Amy Kean takes a look at whether ‘dreamvertising’ would be a living nightmare.

One of my favourite clichéd descriptions of an advertising audience is ‘time-poor’. Mums, students, businessmen, the girl about town... their hectic schedules and increased love for multi-tasking mean they have less time than ever, apparently. So the marketing industry has of course responded in the most sensible way, whacking an ad in every single tiny space our frantic consumers’ eyes flicker at. Websites, mobile phones, watches and, with the rise of virtual reality, as close as two centimetres away from their actual face.

Could this come to a head when humans are so sick of technology and brands trying to rule their lives that they’ll throw out their Samsung, ditch the Dell (if they haven’t already) and start enjoying real life? That’s the utopian dream, but it definitely won’t happen. Sorry.

We already have ‘creative immersion’ through VR, AR, experiential holograms and so on, and while there’s a real trend for using technology and creativity to enhance the vibrancy of the day to day, moment by moment, there’s one territory that we haven’t yet explored – our dreams (or ‘dreamvertising’) in theory could be the holy grail in getting a consumer’s undivided personal attention, entering a realm that’s traditionally only been reserved for aspirations and fears. How could it work? Very simply: the user would wear some kind of advanced neuro-scientific electroencephalogram (EEG) while sleeping that identifies when you’re entering REM and launches stimulus such as lights and sounds to enhance or even create new dreams.

This jaunty cap could also measure your response to the stimulus – at its most basic whether you liked or disliked it, and whether you’re likely to remember it the next day.

Such dreams could be produced by creative agencies, bought and sold via media agencies, and would, of course, have to go through official approval – a Clearcast for the imagination if you will. A possible model could be payment in return for the entrance into people’s minds, and you bet your ass the Daily Mail would be all over it at launch.

If you look at the behavioural trends the concept’s not that far-fetched: up-and-coming audiences are not only expecting but demanding more digitised lives. According to a recent research project from Havas Worldwide, 33 per cent of young people would be a cyborg, if offered the choice, and increasingly customers are favouring personalised communication over blanket, broadcast marketing. And you can’t get more personal than a beautiful dream about flying over the New York skyline, brought to you by Red Bull.

Advertising, in your dreams. Is this different from what brands have always tried to do? Whether it’s reinforcing social stereotypes, convincing people that they need a product they definitely don’t need, making consumers cry at Christmas, following internet users across the web, or flashing a neon sign in front of someone’s face (because, you know, they’re time-poor) the advertising industry is expert at mind control and manipulation. But entering this last vital territory – the subconscious – might seem a step too far. Or does it?

The technology exists so don’t discount the idea just yet.

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