Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, content is defined by online resource center ASMR University as something that evokes “light and pleasurable tingles, sparkles, fuzziness or waves of relaxation in the head, neck, spine and throughout the rest of the body.” Previously, beauty companies had been tapping into the thriving YouTube ASMR influencer community, and now they’re upping their ASMR video content on Gen Z-heavy mobile platforms such as TikTok.
“ASMR has consistently been featured in our TikTok feed since February, but has become our primary focus since the quarantine period,” said Tim Coolican, CEO of Milk Makeup.
Andrés Ordóñez, the chief creative officer of FCB Chicago, an ad agency that has worked with ASMR content in advertising, said ASMR is similar to satisfying customers’ need for meditation or calming practices. “People are looking for a way to disconnect,” he said. “ASMR is sound-driven. It takes you [to a state of calm] faster than any visual.”
TikTok is an especially popular platform for ASMR beauty content. Brands including Huda Beauty, Sephora, Milk Makeup, ColourPop, Tarte Cosmetics and Glow Recipe have posted TikTok videos tagged as #ASMR since March.
To trigger an ASMR response, a video typically features “a kind or caring person giving personal attention to the viewer while speaking softly or whispering and creating gentle sounds with gentle movements,” said Craig A. H. Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University and a leading researcher on ASMR.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ASMR was already becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool across categories. It especially gained traction in January 2019, when it was featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Michelob starring Zoë Kravitz that was created by FCB Chicago.
“TikTok is a natural fit with our brand and our community,” said Coolican, who noted that ASMR is Milk Makeup’s most popular content category on TikTok. The brand began building its TikTok presence earlier this year, and Coolican said overall engagement levels tend to be high for Milk, ranging from 5-10% per post. The company currently has over 215,000 followers and 3 million likes.
Beauty brands’ TikTok videos tend to have a wide range of content tagged with #ASMR. Milk Makeup’s most-viewed video, for example, features a close-up shot of skin cream being spread on a woman’s hand and mixed with highlighter powder, along with augmented sounds. It’s earned over 11 million views. The brand also works with ASMR influencer Jocie B, who films videos tapping on the brand’s containers.
Huda Beauty, meanwhile, features founder Huda Kattan whispering in a soft voice, as well as the sounds of makeup brushes clicking together and goo being squeezed out of a tube. Tarte Cosmetics shows videos of nails tapping on its containers.
With 18.1 billion views on TikTok, the #ASMR hashtag is a lure for beauty brands, though they don’t always use it in conjunction with the exact triggers that cause the physical response. Some brands like Glow Recipe have added music to their videos tagged #ASMR, but according to Richard, music is not known for triggering the tingling sensation. “The current major evidence for this is that almost every top ASMR artist on YouTube doesn’t add music or sound effects to their productions. The more human and natural the production is, then the more likely it will stimulate ASMR.”
Videos tagged with #ASMR frequently overlap with the #oddlysatisfying hashtag on TikTok, which has 7.2 billion views and features videos of goo-squeezing or makeup being squished. Snapchat also has an “Oddly Satisfying” channel curated by its editors, which a Snapchat spokesperson said has been wildly popular on the app.
“ASMR videos are a type of oddly satisfying video,” said Richard, but he noted that not all oddly satisfying videos are necessarily ASMR.
ASMR videos tend to be popular on mobile platforms frequented by Gen-Z users. In addition to being featured on TikTok and Snapchat, they have also found their way onto Instagram Stories, like with Benefit Cosmetics.
“With a lot of depression and all the things that are happening while everyone’s in the house, brands are more interested in using ASMR to grow an audience” said Ordóñez. “I think we’re going to see a lot of of brands trying to get into this world.”