With the advent of technology like DVDs, on demand programming and digital video recorders (DVRs), moviegoers today can enjoy the luxury of fast-forwarding through countless commercials and advertisements. But, if you’re someone who still prefers to see new releases on the big screen, you are subjected to what seems like a never-ending barrage of previews and advertisements before the main feature begins. Have you ever wondered the effectiveness of this type of advertising? Psychologists at the University of Cologne attempted to find out.

Study participants were sent to a movie theater to watch a real movie and were shown commercials for unfamiliar products – a German butter and a Korean body cream– prior to the movie.  Half of the participants were given sugar cubes and the other half was given popcorn to munch on. A week later the test subjects were invited to the lab where some of them were shown pictures of the unfamiliar products and some were given money to spend on products, like the body cream. Participants who’d only had sugar cubes showed a preference for the products advertised both in what they recalled and what they chose to spend their money on. Those who had consumed popcorn did not. Therefore, it was concluded that the advertising had no effect on the popcorn eaters at all.

Upon further analysis, the researchers concluded that it was not the popcorn that made the movie-goers immune to the ads, but the act of chewing itself. This is because when people read or listen to someone talking, we subvocalize. In other words, we mouth what we see and hear by subtly moving the muscles in the mouth and throat – the same muscles used for eating.

So, what are the implications of these findings on advertising as a whole? To quote directly from the report, “The present study used the cinema scenario as an illustrative example. However, such oral blockades caused by snacking take place in many more situations, such as while watching TV and surfing the Internet.”


Bennett, Drake. “Eat Popcorn, Be Immune to Advertising”. Businessweek.com. 10/14/2013.

Topolinski, Sascha. Linder, Sandy. Freudenberg, Anna. “Popcorn in the Cinema: Oral Interference Sabotages Advertising Effects”. University of Cologne, Germany.