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August 2, 2010
Advertisers: Are They Dreammakers or Frenemies?
Do you ever have dreams about advertising? Of course not. That would be lame. But given the pervasive nature of advertising I wonder why, at least sometimes, we don’t.

Like a lot of boys, I dreamed I could fly. In them, I was Superman or, to be honest, a hybrid mutant more akin to the X-Men. Usually, I used my power to avoid or thwart a real-life nemesis of mine, some schoolyard bully. As I got older, movies became dominant influences in my dreams. Zombies chasing me, their putrid arms just out of reach. Vampires. Better still, Vampire women! God bless Hammer studios.

I’m getting ahead of myself. This is about advertising in dreams. More to the point: Why isn’t advertising in our dreams? For example, how come Tony the Tiger never turns up in Z-land? Or, God forbid, Bill Shatner? I’m surprised Burger King hasn’t infiltrated my psyche. That crowned freak is a horrific and comedic entity, Felliniesque, if ever there was such a thing.

Given how much these characters and images bombard us, you’d think they’d have found their way into our subconscious. “We interrupt this dream to bring you the following paid announcement.”

Considering the fact I make ads for a living, it seems odd I don’t recall having a dream about any aspect of the creative process: writing ads, selling ads, producing ads, or the ads themselves. Never ever. Have any of you?

Oh, I suppose I’ve had dreams about work or, more to the point, the people from work, but that’s because they had become close friends or bitter enemies. Or, worse yet, frenemies. Frenemies love to appear in my dreams. For example, a mentor betrays me, saying terrible things about me behind my back. Perhaps it’s an evil account director who keeps trying to sabotage my work. Usually, these are broken narratives, without a real finish. They feel wholly paranoid, like that classic nightmare of being late for a test. You’re running down the hallway, the class bell ringing, but you can’t find the door.

According to Freud, dreams are an outlet for something we repress during our waking life. It is common for the recovering alcoholic to have “drinking dreams.” Teenagers have wet dreams because they aren’t “getting any” in real life. And so on.

In a reversed-out, bizarro way, maybe advertising is, in fact, dreams manufactured for the time one is awake. “We make you want what you don’t need,” or so it reads on my blog's masthead.

Advertisers evoke our desires by creating dreams for us, also known as commercials, billboards, banners, and the like. We want something because it has flashed before our eyes, infiltrated our subconscious.

In 1957, Vance Packard  coined the term “hidden persuaders.” He claimed advertisers used psychological techniques including depth psychology and subliminal tactics to manipulate expectations and induce desire for products. Subliminal advertising was thought to be commonplace, like communists or UFOs. Sex was in the ice cubes!

Now, advertisers don’t require subliminal methods to infiltrate our psyches. The Internet and social media create untold forums for “branded content.” Ads pose as films. Sincere recommendations are, in fact, paid media. And so on. There’s an app for everything and behind that app is a motive. We don’t know what is real or who to trust. Gadzooks, it’s like advertisers have become our frenemies!

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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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