The Power of Sound - Part 3: Tingleheads
What Marketers can learn from the internet phenomenon of ASMR
Video source: The New Yorker
Gal Gadot, Margot Robbie, Ashley Graham, Kate Hudson and Jake Gyllenhall have gone there. Millions of people around the world have gone there. In all probability, most of the world has gone there, including you, without actually registering it or calling it ASMR.
Whether you are a believer or a cynic, whether you love it or hate it, Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR is something of a trending pop culture phenomenon that you can’t deny. A clip of a woman tapping a hairbrush and playing with a peacock feather has attracted more than 20 million views and nearly 100,000 likes. A wordless ten-hour video of a man softly rubbing his palms together and mouthing words has been viewed nearly 18 million times and garnered 166k likes. There are over 14 million videos on Youtube on ASMR. Several celebrities have made ASMR videos and talked, posted, tweeted about it. The cultural phenomenon has been referenced in hit television shows like HBO’s ‘High Maintenance’.
I personally love it and believe that it is an extreme representation of a fundamental truth about the way that we relate to sounds. I also find it immensely soothing and pleasurable, and a welcome relief from the noise that pervades so much of modern urban life; from the cacophony of television shows, traffic and tone-deaf advertising.
Personal preference notwithstanding, ASMR has made me think a great deal about sound and how Marketers and Advertisers ignore, underuse or misuse its power in crafting Brand experiences. A great deal is made about design and visual identity (and rightly so) in the world of Branding. Emphasis is also placed on script and content and narrative while creating communication campaigns. But how many brand owners and stewards even think about sound design? And of those that do, how many pay attention to the tactile, textured nature of sound? How many venture beyond raucous, exaggerated voice-overs or jingles to integrate sound into the user experience of a brand?
Great sound design can make a significant positive impact for brands at so many different levels. Would viewers be less likely to mute your messages on television if the sound wasn’t loud and noisy, but instead offered a few moments of calm, quiet, peace, relaxation, even pleasure? The stakes are even higher with online viewers for whom sound, transmitted straight into their systems through hi-fidelity headphones, is an integral and intimate part of the viewing experience. Great sound design can be a differentiator, making branded content pleasurable to watch and listen to.
The importance of sound design is also evident in the success of ‘Calm’ – App of the year 2017 and one of the most successful apps on the iOS app store in recent times. Calm uses sound beautifully in its design to create meditative audio-visual experiences which can soothe, relax, improve focus and create a positive frame of mind. And users love it. Enough to pay for it in a world dominated by free apps. The app, valued at $250 million, is almost always at the top of the most downloaded apps in its category. Calm is a testament to the real effect that sound can have on people’s states of mind. It is a testament also to another large and growing need state among people – the need for quiet, soothing experiences. The exact opposite of what so many advertisers offer.
ASMR offers Marketers and Advertisers a great opportunity to aim for euphoric sound design, and to integrate sound into brand experiences. Dove Chocolate and Ikea have both used ASMR to great effect in campaigns. The brands under our care would benefit greatly from association with quiet, pleasant, pleasurable voices delivering our brand messages in a tone and manner designed to soothe, relax, evoke intimacy, evoke a smile, create pleasurable sensations in our bodies and brains. Considered sound design can also integrate really well with certain categories, bringing alive the product experience in a pleasurable way.
Here are just a few ideas:
1. The sound of liquid pouring into a cup or of people sipping or gulping it down can do wonders for a soft drink or beer brand. Coca-Cola has, from time to time, used both these sounds to great effect. The opportunity is to take it to the next level with ASMR.
2. Real estate companies can use the sounds of flowing water, chirping birds, grass being snipped and such to create a calming, harmonious, even luxurious experience.
3. Automotive and engine oil brands can design delightful audio-visual experiences set to the gentle hum of a smooth engine, the rhythmic clack of cylinders, the barely perceptible but deeply satisfying sound of gears shifting smoothly.
4. ASMR can enhance retail experiences for cafes and product showrooms.
And much more.
The ASMR phenomenon reminds us that people are tactile, multi-sensorial beings and sound plays a significant role in determining emotional states and responses. People don’t just ‘view’ advertising and branded content. They also listen to it. Us branding folk can use sound sensitively to enhance the brand experiences we create. Or we can ignore it, continue erring on the side of loud exaggeration, and have people reaching for mute buttons.