On June 17th 2019, Hershey’s Chocolate Company unveiled a near-hour-and-a-half long online video-come-feature film-come-commercial entitled Reese The Movie: An ASMR Experience.
Set entirely in a room painted orange, it brings together five well-known ASMR creators — Gibi ASMR, ASMR Darling, Matty Tingles, ALB in Whisperland and Seafoam Kitten — who sit at a round table and take turns whispering about the eponymous Reese’s peanut butter cups, in addition to crinkling the sweet’s wrappers and, in the end, eating them.
Even those who feel ASMR would find watching the video an unsettling experience. The sheer length spent in a single-coloured room where the only sounds are people whispering, crinkling and chewing feels increasingly disturbing. The feeling it creates is far from the calming one the sensation is supposed to.
What’s most unsettling about this video, though, is that it is a prime example of how companies have latched on to and corporatised ASMR.
The Rise to Prominence of ASMR
If you don’t know what ASMR is, those who make the videos themselves — called Asmrtists — are quick to explain: it’s a relaxing sensation stimulated by specific sounds such as whispering, lip smacking, brushing and tapping to name a few. A study finds it could have health benefits, and there are millions of Youtube videos designed to create such a feeling in listeners, with more and more uploaded every day.
Those who experience ASMR are fiercely passionate and protective about the medium, and have long wanted it to be accepted by the mainstream. This year they seem to have got their wish: its popularity has grown to the point where it has started to be recognised — and indeed implemented — outside of the community.
W Magazine conducted a series of ASMR interviews, with celebrities including Margot Robbie, Cara Deleveigne and Gal Gadot speaking only in a whisper. Most prominently, though, is Michelob’s 2019 Superbowl ad that featured Zoe Kravitz doing the same.
The latter points to the undeniable fact that, almost always when ASMR is now found in the mainstream, it is in the form of an advertisement.
In addition to the Michelob, Ikea, McDonald’s, Lynx and Ritz have all made adverts in the ASMR format, with a less bombastic presentation usually seen in commercials, instead focusing solely on the sounds and sensations of the products. Reese have taken it to the next level by producing a feature-length promotion for their chocolate.
Is this, though, proof that ASMR is now mainstream, or is it that marketers have found one of the least aggressive and most accessible forms of advertising?
Sponsorship Seen in ASMR
The majority of ASMR videos, those made by users with far less views and subscribers than ASMR Darling’s 2.3 million, are simple, home-made productions where the subject either whispers, taps or makes various other noises in hope of triggering the sensation in those watching.
The more popular Asmrtists (though it’s uncertain why, when they all basically do the same thing, that some are so vastly more popular than others) have reached a point where their productions are more lavish and elaborate, shot in studio-like conditions and using top-of-the-line camera and sound equipment. Their videos are also regularly sponsored or feature promotions of products.
To name a couple: SophieMichelleASMR, who has more than 400,000 subscribers, has partnered with Glossybox and regularly features their products in her videos. ASMRGlow, an English-speaking French Asmrtist with over 850,000 subscribers, receives sponsorship from a big list of well-known companies, from Audible to Honey. This is just a few examples of sponsorships that have been used in ASMR videos.
Whether or not these deals actually drive sales for the featured products, it must not be hurting sales either, as companies keep pursuing Asmrtists as ambassadors for their wares.
ASMR as the Perfect Advertising Tool
Companies partnering with social media influencers is nothing new, but with people getting wiser to the fact they might be being advertised to and new guidelines being touted to try and better regulate as well as educate people on the practice, marketers have started searching for new ways to move their merchandise.
They seem to have hit the jackpot with ASMR, where products can play a prominent role in the video and the nature of the medium does not make it feel like viewers are being advertised to.
Every ASMR video is set up with the purpose that it’s about the person watching and not the person on-screen — the Asmrtist is there to help you relax, relieve tensions, give you affirmations and grounding, whatever is bothering you. This creates the feeling that, regardless of what appears in the video, it’s for the benefit of those watching and the intentions are pure and good.
ASMR also has an automatic, indiscriminate fan base: so long as the video can create the feeling in those who experience it, it will find an audience — something that is prime and open for someone with malicious intent to move in to.
It’s also possible that, on a subconscious level, companies hope that if an Asmrtist can produce the pleasing sensation using a sponsored product, audiences might associate that feeling with the product itself.
Jackson Hitchon, the marketing director behind the Reese’s movie, alluded to this in an official announcement for the video: “What we found in talking with consumers, is they have a very specific…methodical and mindful approach to eating the Reese Peanut Butter Cup…It also opened the door to parallels between eating the Peanut Butter Cup and ASMR.”
Is ASMR Now Mainstream?
It should be said as well that the Asmrtists mentioned here, like the biggest Youtubers out there, are the elite.
The smaller ASMR channels, the ones seemingly made in people’s homes using store-bought microphones and smartphone cameras, rarely, if ever, feature corporate sponsors or paid promotions. While the subscriber counts are lower, these videos are equally well received and, according to those who comment on them, just as effective.
If ASMR works for people and makes them happy, then of course there’s a place in the world for it. The truth is, though, that despite these appearances in mainstream media, ASMR has barriers to truly becoming mainstream. The biggest hindrance being the fact that only a small number of people say they experience it, and it seems completely alien, even repulsive, to those who don’t.
Companies like Reese are keen to push ASMR into the mainstream because it’s prime advertising real estate, where products can feature pride of place to audiences they know are there and watching. Unlike other Youtubers whose popularities dip once the hype around them dies down, or they say something offensive, so long as Asmrtists keep whispering they will still have legions of happy fans.
Plugging products is now, unfortunately, a part of the culture of the social media celebrity. So with ASMR’s popularity and loyal fans, there will be some people wanting the medium to go mainstream for that very reason —so they can get fast fame and quick cash off the back of corporate partnerships.