George Webster
Dec 15, 2016

Spine-tingling content: A soothing antidote to modern anxieties

A surprising number of people find their happy place in videos of people squishing slime, or simply whispering, or brushing hair. Brand stewards should pay attention to why, writes Flamingo's George Webster.

So relaxing? A still from a Thai-made slime video.
So relaxing? A still from a Thai-made slime video.

It sounds like the latest chapter in ’90s nostalgic throw-backing: a reimagined world of kitsch, brash and bold gunging on children’s TV shows. Yet, the Thai-originating slime video phenomenon is merely the latest episode in the tale of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) content’s soaring popularity. Physically exhilarating or relaxing content that has fast enveloped the web, it has moved far beyond the confines of the Reddit feeds from which ideas around it initially spawned.

These highly sensorial, text-less videos have garnered truly international appeal, traversing geographies to amass a view count that has in some instances surpassed the 300,000 mark. No doubt, there’s a tangible and quantifiable global excitement from the strange touch and manipulation of shapes of this malleable substance.

But the overwhelming popularity of the ASMR spectacle more broadly (from the YouTube videos of just-audible whispering or hair-brushing, to music that elicits spine-tingling sensations) reveals something quite culturally pertinent about the digitally native generation. Importantly, this goes beyond its internationalism and so too, the lessons to be drawn as a shining case study of online virality. It points to a need to pushback against the backlash to lives lived online. In the face of the mind-numbing, and psychological ailment-inducing properties of the digital space (as the medical diagnosis of social media-related mental illnesses attests), these videos have displayed a capacity—that has otherwise been largely ignored—to relax and soothe minds, from curing insomnia to calming anxiety.

Importantly too, we seem to be living in a world characterised increasingly by a really deep granularity. From the language of megapixels and resolution the television industry speaks in, to the grain-sized data-bits created and logged onto the diversity of health and wellness applications. Pertinently, where this is perhaps most marked is in how it has permeated how we think about our bodies, and our minds. The worldwide suffusion of mindfulness and meditation thinking and practice, and the wealth of devices and applications to start to measure, and at times, quantify, reflects exactly this obsession with the finer grains of detail.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

It seems that ‘brain orgasm’ videos, as they are more colloquially referred, offer both a less calculated, and less fine-tuned means to decompress that is genuinely appealing to young people. Indeed, in the liminal moments of our perceivably time-poor lives, they provide a scientifically validated) opportunity to mentally recharge through truly switching off. It seems to be very much driven by the same thrusts of the mind-wandering trend flying in the face of mindfulness. Perhaps, it is through the albeit bizarre, serotonin-releasing experience, that young people are seeking solace from an otherwise noisy and pressurised digital world, and, the barrage of socioeconomic and geo-political turmoil in the physical world.

So what can brands learn from this? Naturally, that it gestures towards a desire for whatever the freshest iteration in the current discourse of experientialism is. Crucially too, to a want for this form of experience to be delivered not only in satisfying bitesize portions, but to dispatch a satisfying (and meaningful) end-result for whomever is engaged. Given today’s powerful impetus for virtually created experiences and the perceivably heightened value of personal, owned moments of time, brands will need to think deeply about how they can deliver with efficacy.

Related: Campaign Asia-Pacific's Ad Nut did not appreciate a couple of brands that tried to use ASMR in marketing. (Maybe ASMR just doesn't work in squirrels?) 

But is there also an interesting lesson to be drawn that lies in the sense of security these videos deliver? For all of the physical world’s unnerving and alarming problems, and of the digital world’s loud and frightening spaces, these videos give viewers a seemingly much-pined after sense of comfort. Is there an opportunity that’s riper than ever, for brands with genuine credentials in engendering feelings of security and safety to step in?

George Webster is research executive in Cultural Intellignce at Flamingo London


Campaign Asia

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