What’s next for ASMR

The use of ASMR (sound effects that create a deeply immersive experience) by brands and marketers rocketed last year. But is it just a fad or can the trend develop into something more meaningful? Here, Anne-Laure Pingreoun of Alter-Projects argues it can

Last year saw ASMR catapult from a niche branding fad to one of the year’s biggest creative trends, becoming the focal point of US brewery Michelob’s Superbowl advert and major campaigns for Coke, Lynx, KFC and McDonald’s. But this is only the beginning and we’re set to see creatives evolve and expand the use of ASMR in the year ahead, and beyond.

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is the tingling, goosebump sensation people feel when hearing certain sounds, like whispering, scratching, tapping, or the sounds of eating and drinking. It’s known for being able to relax and soothe people while also making them more responsive to other stimuli.

Ikea was an early pioneer with its 25-minute Oddly Ikea ASMR video campaign, which featured the sounds of hands being slowly drawn over bedlinen and furniture, bringing the brand’s textures to life online in an unprecedented way. This ability to bridge the offline and online is why I first came across ASMR in 2017 when I was working on a campaign for Glenmorangie whisky and needed to conjure up the taste sensation of the product for consumers who were encountering the brand online.

Since then, we’ve seen consumer brands from just about every sector jump on the ASMR bandwagon. The vast majority of these have used ASMR in a very literal way with ad agencies adopting the style of early YouTube ASMR videos as a blueprint: soft whispering into microphones and close-ups of objects being ritualistically scratched and stroked with hyper-real, amplified audio. Zoe Kravitz tap her nails on a cold beer in the Michelob beer Superbowl commercial; Bacardi’s Sound of Rum campaign shows bottles clinking and the rum being poured over cracking ice; Coach’s Originals bag campaign depicts leather being stroked and cut by hand.

These are all effective in their own way but demonstrate how the use of ASMR has got stuck at a place where it’s used more or less in the same way by everyone: very literally, with a focus on the sound and predictable visuals.