Under the Influence

How Dove chocolate, Applebee's and IKEA are tingling your senses

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a new phenomenon being embraced by brands everywhere, in an attempt to tingle your senses and open your wallet.

Sounds can trigger many pleasurable sensations. It's something marketers have been well aware of for decades.

But recently, brands have taken an increased interest in sound.

It's called ASMR.

This week, we explore the quiet world of ASMR marketing. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s a new form of marketing that creates a calming feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. Marketers create that experience using sound effects and whispers. Everything from beer brands to fast food restaurants are using it - hoping that tingling sensation leads to a cash register. Hope you’ll join us. 0:57

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is defined as: A calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. For many people, that tingling sensation begins at the top of the head and works its way down the neck to the spine.

For marketers, it has opened up a new path to appeal to customers.

There is a definite technique for triggering ASMR.

It involves placing multiple microphones around a product, making sounds with that product and whispering.

You may think ASMR is meant to be sexual, but it's not.

While it's certainly sensual, the intent is not to arouse, but rather to relax. And in the marketing world, to whet your appetite for a product.

ASMR does not affect everyone in the same way. Some people don't respond to it at all. And millions respond to it intensely. In a recent study, 75 per cent of participants felt a pleasurable tingling sensation when they heard people whispering. 64 per cent felt the same sensation when they heard crisp or crinkling sounds.

ASMR expert and physiologist Craig Richard makes an important distinction. He says ASMR must have a human component to it.

So when Applebee's Restaurant posted an hour-long ASMR video of meat cooking on a grill, Richard doesn't consider that true ASMR. Meat sizzling on a grill might be oddly satisfying, but he firmly believes …in order to elicit the tingling response.

The first ASMR commercial from a major brand was created in China in 2015.

It was for Dove Chocolate and it began with someone opening the Dove bar wrapping:

It got a lot of attention and that video opened up the ASMR doors to the marketing world.

So why are marketers so interested in ASMR?

Well, for a number of reasons. First, it's a new frontier for advertisers - a new platform they can use to advertise.

ASMR has a cultural cache and marketers are always looking for ways to be at the forefront of trends.

The techniques create a quiet and private experience in the ear of the listener. It's a way for advertisers to spend an intimate, calming, uninterrupted period of time with a potential customer. Because time is the ultimate influencer.

And most importantly, it allows marketers to showcase their products in a sensual way.

IKEA, for example, was one of the first retailers to create an ASMR marketing video.

It was called "Oddly IKEA" and was aimed at the college crowd. IKEA wanted to use ASMR to demonstrate the quality of their products for dorm living.

Instead of just talking about the thread count in a bed sheet, IKEA could now let you feel a thread count as the narrator runs her fingers across the sheets:

That video, as of this writing, has attracted 2.8 million views.

It helped increase IKEA's "Back To School" sales by 27 per cent over the previous year.

National Rail in the UK made an ASMR video to promote train travel:

The National Rail video wants to convince you that train travel is the most relaxing and calming way to see the UK.

ASMR has opened up many interesting strategic opportunities for brands.

For marketers, it's a tingling sensation that begins with a video and ends with a cash register.

But it all depends on who's listening.

For more stories about ASMR Marketing, click or tap the "Listen" button above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our podcast.

Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels, so host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)