Study: Popcorn Immunizes Us Against Advertising

Word of mouth may have a bigger effect on us than we realize.

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Popcorn has the secret ability to subvert theater ads, researchers say.

Researchers at Cologne University in Germany invited nearly 100 people to a film screening and gave participants either popcorn or a sugar cube, The Guardian says. After the film, they were asked about the brands shown in the ads before the film.

Participants who were given the sugar cube “showed positive psychological responses to the products they had encountered in the ads,” The Guardian says. The advertising had no effect on the people who got popcorn. A second study of nearly twice as many people had the same results, BBC News says.

What happened? The first study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, says chewing got in the way. A sugar cube just dissolves in your mouth, while popcorn requires your mouth to move. Past research has shown we subconsciously mouth unfamiliar words (and brand names) when we first hear them, to try and work out the pronunciation. If we’re busy stuffing our faces, we can’t do that.

In practice, we already know all of the car and phone brands they flash at us in the theater, so it might not work as well. The researchers deliberately chose ads for foreign brands that the audience wouldn’t recognize, so they would have to mouth them.

But the bright side is that you don’t need to buy popcorn to get the effect. Chewing is apparently the key, so a stick of gum should work just as well in those cases when something new pops up on the screen.

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