ASMR marketing 101: Is it for you and is your brand the right fit for it?

ASMR is not new, but it has picked up pace in the marketing industry in recent times.  The use of multisensory media can be effective in engaging consumers and offering an experience that goes just beyond video. According to a recent blog post by "Think With Google, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos and other sensory formats such as video podcasts or cinematic first-person videos have also risen in popularity. In fact, the use of multisensory media to immerse viewers in an experience is "more popular than ever".

For the marketing and advertising industry, ASMR videos, in particular, have been in the scene for the past few years. ASMR is "a relaxing, often sedative sensation that begins on the scalp and moves down the body". According to Think With Google, it is also known as "brain massage" and is triggered by sounds such as whispers, accents and crackles.

In 2016, Ritz Crackers and FCB Seoul employed ASMR sound-design techniques to accentuate the crispiness South Korean consumers would experience when eating a piece of Ritz Crackers biscuit. Last year, laundry detergent brand Ariel and BBDO India did a #ShareTheLoad ASMR campaign featuring American ASMR YouTuber and artist, GIBI ASMR, who depicted her husband doing the laundry. Closer to home, brands such as Tiger Beer, McDonald's Malaysia, NTUC FairPrice and more recently Malaysia Airlines and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, have also employed ASMR in their marketing to offer consumers spine-tingling sensations.

At the same time, Singapore Airlines also posted a short clip on Instagram featuring the seat belt sign lighting up accompanied by the familiar sound. It's spokesperson told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that it continually seeks innovative ways to engage its customers and fans, including being creative with sound. "The most recent example is our Sound of Singapore Airlines sonic signature, which we launched in April 2021. Many of us miss travelling, including the experiences on board an aircraft. We wanted to bring some of these fond memories back by presenting familiar sounds one may hear on board an aircraft," the spokesperson explained.

In Singapore, related search queries for "asmr microphone" and "asmr sounds" increased 70% and 40% respectively over the past seven days, according to Google Trends. In Malaysia, Sabah and Kuala Lumpur were the top two sub regions that showed interest in ASMR, followed by Selangor and Sarawak. Searches for the term "mukbang" also increased 40% in the past seven days. Meanwhile, queries for the terms "apa itu asmr makanan" and "asmr artinya apa" increased by 190% and 100% respectively in Indonesia. East Java, Bali, and Yogyakarta were the top subregions that expressed interest in ASMR over the past week. Interestingly, in 2016, Think With Google said ASMR is "a massive growing trend" and has garnered more search interest on YouTube compared to "candy" or "chocolate.

While ASMR is now being used as a marketing tactic, McDonald's regional director of marketing, Asia, Eugene Lee, said it has not exactly taken off in Asia. While it works for obvious categories such as F&B and could possibly succeed for other categories such as air purifiers, Lee said it would be hard to imagine ASMR marketing working for a product like shampoo or handphone brand, for example. 

The most critical piece is to ensure you have a distinctive sound that will trigger interest. You can’t just record or highlight any sound, and expect it to work with consumers.

Lee said the sound has to be distinct to the brand's product, something that consumers already relate with and is memorable. In 2017, McDonald's launched its Ayam Goreng McD ASMR campaign that was filmed with the help of Dolby Digital.The campaign managed to capture the distinctive crunching sound of fried chicken that every Malaysian can relate to. It even prompted a restaurant, Brilliant Nasi Lemak House, to release a 40-second ad which bore resemblance to McDonald's Ayam Goreng spot

When asked why the brand embarked on the campaign, Lee said Malaysians judge how good a piece of fried chicken is by how crunchy the skin and coating is. "You don’t even have to look at the visuals, all you need to do is hear the sound of the crunch, and you instantly know it’s fried chicken. We wanted that crunch to be associated with Ayam Goreng McD and own that distinctive attribute," he explained.

If brands plan to get started on ASMR marketing, they should "go all the way" instead of diluting it with voiceovers or being concerned with explaining what is happening, Lee added. 

Let the sound do the talking. Marketers tend to worry about whether customers will 'get it' if they don’t explain the product and this is a major downfall that will destroy the impact of the ad if you pursue it.

At the same time, don't jump straight into it. As with many trends, marketers should still think about whether their product has a distinctive sound that can be owned. "The acid test is that customers have to recognise what the product is through sound alone without seeing the visuals. Only embark on ASMR if you have this unique selling proposition," he added.

Similarly, Malaysia Airlines' (MAB) global creative director, Sagar Paranjpe said marketers should "make their brand feel relevant to consumers' ears by finding the sound that is relevant to their brand". "ASMR is about sounds, sounds that people are craving for. Sounds that send a tingling sensation from the top of the skull all the way down the spine. There are thousands of familiar sounds out there, so as long as you as a marketer can find a sound that relates perfectly to your brand, product or campaign, go ahead and use ASMR," he said. Paranjpe added that this is the biggest learning MAB had and because of that, its Sounds of MH campaign has legs. 

When the sound is irrelevant to the brand, product or campaign, consumers will still enjoy the sound but will not remember the brand that brought it to them. Worse still, Paranjpe said consumers might even attribute the sound to another brand entirely. "So you'll be spending time, money and effort to help the recall of some random but relevant brand out there," he said.

While MAB has always toyed with the idea of using sounds, the team felt it was too obvious, especially to use a sound such as "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking." 

"We felt it wouldn't work. Worse still, people might think it was any other airline brand and not necessarily Malaysia Airlines. The pandemic, of course, changed everything," Paranjpe said. Paranjpe explained that last year, MAB tried its hand on a range of creative destination videos for Malaysians and while it showed some results, "it didn't work hard enough" because consumers weren't connecting to the nostalgia of travel as many were still optimistic that travel restrictions would improve. Others had already travelled domestically between August to October. The next round of lockdowns saw state borders close, but even then Malaysian consumers were optimistic as they could still go on staycation. However, the final blow came when Malaysians were no longer allowed to dine out or visit friends and family beyond a 4 km radius.

This backstory is very important because this unfortunately is what it takes to create an ideal scenario for an extremely successful ASMR campaign - the lockdown of your senses. We honestly didn't think about it as a marketing campaign; we thought about it as a way in which we could help free at least one of their senses.

The Sounds of MH is a 30-minute clip on YouTube with a compilation of sounds that one would normally hear throughout their flight experience. They include announcements made at the immigration, safety announcements, the hum of the engines when the plane is in the air, and the captain's announcement welcoming travellers onboard. Snippets of the clips were also shared on its Facebook and TikTok accounts.

According to Paranjpe, these were recorded live with the help of its airport staff, pilots and crew members. "We could have bought most of these sounds from audio stock websites but knew that it wouldn't feel real when the audience listens to it in the theatre of their minds," he added. The campaign was created in-house by MAB's AV team, designed by its art and copy team, and amplified by its social media team. 

Photo courtesy: 123RF