Chewing popcorn could block ads' influence in movies, new study finds

Sick of commercials before movies worming their way into your brain? Try chomping on some popcorn.

A new study conducted by the University of Cologne in Germany and reported in The Guardian contends that chewing blocks the pervasive influence of advertising, specifically those ads that appear before movies.

The researchers’ reasoning is straightforward enough. Every time we see or hear a new name – say, “Benedict Cumberbatch” – our mouths unconsciously try to pronounce that name. But chewing disrupts this “inner speech,” the Cologne study suggests, keeping the new name from being imprinted on our brains.

The study involved 96 people at a movie theater. Half of the moviegoers received free popcorn throughout the movie, the other half got a small sugar cube (and would’ve been charged ten bucks for it if this were a real movie). Several ads preceded the movie.

According to the research, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the ads had no effect on the moviegoers who ate popcorn, but a demonstrable positive effect on those who had the quick-dissolving sugar cube.

"The mundane activity of eating popcorn made participants immune to the pervasive effects of advertising," Sascha Topolinski, a researchers, said in the study’s report.

Going forward, the researchers suggest, the study could spell doom for the traditional popcorn machine in the movie theater. "This finding suggests that selling candy in cinemas actually undermines advertising effects, which contradicts present marketing strategies,” the report indicates. “In the future, when promoting a novel brand, advertising clients might consider trying to prevent candy being sold before the main movie."

Certainly, any theater looking to eliminate popcorn from the movies would have an uphill battle. Popcorn at the movies is a century-old tradition. But you know what’s an even older tradition? Making money in America. Expect every kernel to get branded with its own advertisement soon.

On a broader scale, if this leads to entire theaters chawing on popcorn, expect home-theater technology sales to quadruple. Nobody wants to hear that mess.

Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.