Coors has found a new way to crash the Super Bowl: by implanting ads into people’s dreams. Yes, seriously.
The brand has partnered with psychologist and dream expert Deirdre Barrett to make use of so-called “targeted dream incubation” in an attempt to induce people into dreaming about imagery associated with the brand, like mountain streams, snow and refreshment. It involves showing people a stimulus film before they go to sleep and then using an eight-hour soundscape during the night.
The brand and agency DDB tested it in a small group of people about a month ago in a makeshift lab in California. Footage from that experience is used in a teaser video released today. Coors plans to make the full-length video and soundscape public on a special website on Feb. 3, four days before the Super Bowl, in hopes of getting a large audience to give it a try, and then share their experiences on social media. Production company Smuggler also worked on the campaign, with Henry-Alex Rubin directing.
Molson Coors is prohibited from running ads during the Feb. 7 game on CBS because Anheuser-Busch InBev controls the exclusive national beer advertising rights for the game. Alcohol brands have for years sought attention-grabbing ways around the rule (Sam Adams this week spoofed Budweiser’s Clydesdales, for instance, for an ad that will run in New York and Boston during the game).
But the Molson Coors stunt—which plugs Coors Light and Coors Seltzer—marks the first time a brand has attempted to use the unconscious mind as an ally. In an age where nearly everything is commercialized, dreams seemed like one of the last brand-free spaces. So the move risks backlash for creeping into that territory, setting aside any debate about whether the tactic even works.
Coors and DDB are not shying away from the ethical questions the campaign might raise. The teaser video even nods at the issue—David Lawson, a visual artist who worked on the campaign wrestles with the question before the camera cuts away and it is left unanswered.
“We talked about that at length,” says Colin Selikow, DDB’s executive creative director. “Where we got to is, it’s a voluntary experience. There is a very big difference between doing something that is subliminal and where people aren’t aware of it … and doing something that is completely voluntary. You opt into it, you go through some steps before the experience. You do have very willing participants.”
He adds: “That is what so much of advertising is trying to do anyway—we try to enter your consciousness, we try to influence your decision. What this is just doing is being very open about it.”
Coors and DDB ran the test in a sleep lab it erected in Los Angeles, using 26 people who were made aware of the brand’s involvement. Participants had their REM cycles monitored over two nights and were woken up at various points and asked about their dreams.
“I must tell you, the dreams that they had were beyond my wildest expectations. They were all talking about refreshing dreams, dreams that had a lot to do [with] having this moment of chill,” says Marcelo Páscoa, VP of brand marketing for the Coors family of brands, referring to Coors Light and Coors Seltzer. “They were talking about snow, they were talking about mountains, they were talking about rivers—all of the elements that are iconic in both brands’ universes.”
Barrett, who monitored the study from afar due to COVID travel restrictions, is an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the editor of a professional journal called Dreaming. She is a frequently quoted dream expert.
Last year, CBS News reported on a dream survey she conducted that revealed how people were having dreams full of anxiety during the pandemic. "I've seen just dozens of every kind of bug you can imagine—flying, swarms are racing at the dreamer, grasshoppers with vampire fangs,” she stated in the article. “And I think it's partly because we use the word bug as slang for [virus]; you know, 'I've got a bug' means 'I've got a virus.'"
DDB picked up on the rising interest in dreams during the pandemic, which propelled its Coors creative concept. “There’s actually a huge cultural moment that is happening in and around dreams. This idea of pandemic dreams or COVID dreams that people are starting to talk about it. They are having very intense dreams,” Selikow says.
The idea behind the campaign is to provide an anecdote to the anxiety. “People did report waking up feeling calm and relaxed and refreshed,” he says, referring to the study. “The overall output was a positive one for people rather than a manipulative one.”
The effort comes as Molson Coors, under Chief Marketing Officer Michelle St. Jacques, is taking more creative risks while embracing its challenger status compared with the larger Anheuser-Busch InBev. Páscoa, who joined Molson Coors last summer, is comfortable in the challenger role, having previously headed up brand duties in North America for Burger King, which in recent years has taken direct aim at McDonald's with various outside-the-box campaigns such as “Whopper Detour.”
“People are getting more and more skeptical about advertising,” Páscoa says. He described the dream campaign as “one example of a brand attempting to explore uncharted territories to create experiences that people find exciting and interesting, as opposed to just feeling they are constantly being bombarded by traditional ways of advertising.”
He experimented with the dream stimulus video from his home in Miami. “It was a bit fuzzy, my recollection of the dream,” he says. But “I saw mountains. I saw snow and there was this constant presence of water. And I must say that I woke up feeling like, oh, I know it’s 9 a.m., 8 a.m. but somehow it feels like it’s time to have a beer,” he adds, laughing.