When Bacardi launched its recent Sound of Rum campaign, it flung upon us an element of surprise. In the video, there was no traditional music track. Instead, people were dancing to the rhythmic sounds of bottles clinking, drinks pouring and chopping of tropical fruits, recreating the ambience of watering holes. In doing so, the brand has leveraged the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), the latest trend on social media. By now, you must have come across plenty of ASMR videos which use audio stimuli such as soft music, sounds of nature, human whispers and more, which could range from relaxing to invigorating to spine-tingling, depending on the context.
Siddharth Deshmukh, Senior Advisor and Adjunct Professor at MICA, says that ASMR is a kind of biohack. It is essentially hacking your brain by instantly connecting it to a place, time or atmosphere. "It is a mild kind of self-hypnosis where people often use these videos to relax or to fall sleep." A study by Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis, published in the PeerJ journal, shows that 98 per cent of the users watch ASMR videos to relax, 82 per cent to help sleep, 70 per cent to deal with stress and 5 per cent for sexual stimulation.
Is it the latest fad that may fade away soon? Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer at digital media agency Wavemaker India, does not think so. These videos have been popular long enough to be a fad. "From the content perspective, I would say that they have become popular because users know what they are seeking and what to expect, unlike a cricket match or a movie where there is a surprise element," he explains.
As per Google Trends, the topic has gained traction in India over the past one year, and the number of users seems to be rising in the north-east. Some of the biggest stars in this space, known as ASMRtists, include Heather Feather with five million and GentleWhispering ASMR with 1.7 million subscribers. India, too, has its share of ASMR videos with people whispering in different Indian accents or doing head massages or making eating sounds (biryani and pani puri seem most popular).
Skoda India recently launched a social experiment campaign called Peace of Mind and created a couple of videos where a car was driving through the rain and friends were conversing as they went out for a drive. Each got more than five lakh views on YouTube, a proof of their growing popularity.
Varun Duggirala, Co-founder and Content Chief of The Glitch, a creative agency, says ASMR videos are not mainstream yet and brands are still figuring out a way to add this layer of sensory experience to their content. Companies are also experimenting with ASMR-embedded branded content in Glitch studios. "As most of us have our earphones on throughout the day, this is the right time to jump on the bandwagon," he adds.