Acknowledging ASMR

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos have become a big trend online, especially among viewers 18-24. ASMR is the scientifically unproven but increasingly popular idea that certain soft, slow, and/or repetitive sounds tend to make users happy and relaxed, sometimes to the point that they feel a tingling sensation starting at the back of the head and moving down the spine. ASMR videos are frequently, but certainly not exclusively, used before bed as a sleep aid.

Sounds that can induce ASMR in some people include crunching, whispering, boiling, paper crinkling, and hair cutting, among many others. A growing number of YouTube videos—thought to be in the tens of millions and counting, with the top examples attracting more than 10 million views—are dedicated to ASMR and typically feature 15 minutes to an hour of these sorts of relaxing sounds.

As with any other pop culture trend, commercial entities are starting to take note:

  • One of the properties that has been recognized as ASMR-friendly since at least the mid-2010s is Bob Ross, whose voice, along with the scraping of brush and palette knife on canvas, is relaxing to many. The Ross estate, which has been expanding licensing activities over the past several years in response to millennial demand, signed a deal last year with Calm, a meditation and sleep app, to include Ross audio. The deal came about because Calm customers asked for Ross content.
  • Kinetic-sand cutting and slime-crunching (i.e., playing with slime made with crunchy materials) are among the popular crafts that can lead to an ASMR response. Spin Master created a kit for kids that allows them to cut kinetic sand safely; it includes the compound as well as non-sharp plastic replicas of the kitchen tools that are normally used for sand-cutting videos.
  • Brands that have created ASMR videos as a marketing tool to appeal to young adults include IKEA (featuring a quiet narrator and gentle sounds of fabrics and hangers), KFC (chicken, bacon, and gravy cooking), Applebee’s (meat sizzling), and Michelob Ultra (whispering, pouring, etc.).
  • A number of ASMR celebrities have gained strong followings and, while no high-profile licensing or collaboration deals have come to light yet, some have begun extending their content into other media beyond YouTube. Three of the top creators, Ally Maque (ASMRrequests), Gentle Whispering, and Heather Feather, for example, created The K3YS: ASMR Experience VR through Pixelwhipt, a VR business co-founded by Maque. A British man known as The ASMR Gamer has extended his content into an app.

ASMR may be the type of trend that plays more of a role in marketing or promoting licensed properties and products than in inspiring new product lines. But it stands to reason that as ASMR becomes more mainstream it will spur some licensing activity, especially in the meditation and wellness space.

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