ASMR is evolving from the online sphere to inform innovative, IRL wellness treatments and experiences.
Autonomous sensory meridian response, abbreviated to ASMR—the spine-tingling sensation created by amplified everyday sounds, from a hushed whisper to the crumbling of powder or hair being brushed—has become an online phenomenon over the past decade. ASMR artists boast huge followings, including Life with Mak, with over 1.6 million YouTube subscribers, and WhispersRed, with 861,000 subscribers (both as of March 2020).
Brands have embraced the concept, too. In 2019, Coach released a series of videos that highlighted the sounds of the artisan techniques employed in making its luxury goods, and Gucci asked some of the genre’s key artists to interpret the Gucci Ace sneakers through the prism of ASMR videos.
Given that ASMR has followers hooked on its feel-good effects, it’s no surprise that it’s now being woven into wellness rituals. In 2019, Emma Smith of WhispersRed released Unwind Your Mind, published by Harper Collins in the United States, which extols the wellbeing benefits of ASMR. The phenomenon’s wellbeing properties are supported by 2018 research from the University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University, which found that among those subjects who experienced ASMR, there was “significantly greater reductions in their heart rates when watching ASMR videos, compared to those who do not experience AMSR,” as well as “significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.”
One immersive experience that harnesses ASMR’s wellness benefits is Luxury Escapism, which opened in Brooklyn in late 2019. Among its multisensory treatments is the Sonic Sauna, which offers “organic ASMR-inspired sound baths” that evoke fire, water, earth, air, and space. “Visitors to our sauna report entering a deep dream-like state guided by audio moments of tension and release,” Luxury Escapism says.
Also translating ASMR to the physical realm is Whisperlodge. Since 2016, the company has put on immersive experiences in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. At the whispered shows, each visitor is paired with a guide, fusing physical touch with ASMR-inducing sounds.
The experience inspires relaxation and a sense of “being cared for,” Whisperlodge’s co-creator and creative director Melinda Lauw tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “I think in general, people are overstimulated these days,” says Lauw. “You look at your phone and there’s 10,000 things. All the notifications, the sounds—it’s a lot. I think the reason why ASMR is more popular now is because it’s like an escape.”
More mainstream wellness destinations are also offering their own take on that escapism. Gymbox in the United Kingdom launched its Braingasm classes in 2019, inviting participants to listen to a soundtrack of whispered “sweet nothings and storytelling” through headphones, and delivering what Gymbox calls “the most experimental guided meditation you’ve ever had.” British health club chain David Lloyd has also created ASMR videos with artist Sophie Michelle as part of the wellness program at a number of its Spa Retreats.
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Airlines too are tapping into the calm-inducing powers of ASMR. Virgin Atlantic now offers ASMR tracks by the ASMR Sleep Sound Project as part of its in-flight audio offering. “We are constantly evolving and updating our in-flight entertainment to offer content that is both popular and beneficial to customer wellbeing,” says Rebecca Creer, spas and styling manager at Virgin Atlantic. “We recognize the multiple benefits of ASMR, including its ability to help people feel good, relax, or sleep.” JetBlue reimagined the sounds of a busy airport as ASMR, releasing its 2019 “AirSMR” video ahead of the hectic holiday travel season. The Verge reported that what would conventionally be experienced as “an aural nightmare” was “surprisingly soothing.”
As the volume of information bombarding consumers grows each day—from streaming sites to podcasts to social media channels—ASMR experiences and videos, with their soft, peaceful pitch, appeal to those seeking respite from an increasingly noisy world.
Main image of Luxury Escapism courtesy of Luis Nieto Dickens, photo by @nietodickens