Did you see the ASMR commercial that aired during Super Bowl LIII?
If you’re like me, you missed it – because you didn’t watch the Super Bowl – but there was, in fact, an ASMR-themed commercial that aired during one of our world’s most expensive and highly viewed annual broadcast events. This in of itself was unexpected. Things get even more unexpected though when you consider that the ad was for… beer?
Yes, beer. Michelob ULTRA’s new Pure Gold brew, to be exact — a USDA-certified organic light lager containing a mere 2.5 grams of carbs and 85 calories per serving. (For comparison, because this stuff interests me: a Corona Extra has 14 grams of carbs and 148 calories. A Fat Tire has 17 grams of carbs and 165 calories.)
The Michelob commercial does many things that are quintessentially ASMR – whispers, glass taps, and various other bubble, bottle slide, and air-pressure-release noises. The setting is beautiful, the production value is high, and the messaging is delivered by none other than Zoë Kravitz.
“Let’s all experience… something… together,” Kravitz whispers. “This place… so pure… you can feel it.”
It’s not the ASMR aspects of the commercial that had me scratching my head. It was the product placement — also, the fact that that product was organic, diet beer from the largest brewing conglomerate in the US, Anheuser-Busch – done in conjunction with, as Esquire put it, “the recent internet craze of ASMR.”
People are wild for ASMR (and by “wild” I mean less anxious)
Esquire says, but just how much of a “craze” is ASMR? And does a trend within a specific demographic – millennials, they say — actually also correspond with real health benefits?
In terms of a “craze,” Vox reported in May of last year that there are “literally thousands” of videos dedicated to ASMR on YouTube. Dozens of these videos have more than a million views, and multiple ASMR channels have hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Further, the main subreddit dedicated toASMR — r/ASMR — had more than 130,000 subscribers at the time of Vox’s report. Today, that same subreddit had over 175,000 subscribers. So, it’s fair to say ASMR is popular.
In addition to being popular, ASMR also appears to be legit – as in scientifically legitimate.
The Cut wrote in their popular “Science of Us” column that, “While ASMR fanaticism may have all the characteristics of a fleeting millennial phase, it has become a coping mechanism for an unfortunately durable feature of the millennial generation: [battles] with anxiety.”
They cited a study conducted in 2015 that explored ASMR triggers and found that 82 percent of individuals who engage in ASMR do so to help them fall asleep. There’s also a litany of feedback from individuals all over the internet that laud the benefits of ASMR content. So, it’s fair to say ASMR also has appreciable physiological benefits.
Enhanced ASMR Awareness and the Potential Impact for Erotic Clips
Clearly, ASMR is a compelling phenomenon that’s having a real impact on people’s lives. With this in mind, how then do we feel about Michelob using ASMR to sell beer? Further, could people use ASMR to maybe sell… other stuff?
According to a statement from Michelob, “The commercial induces tingling sensations as it encourages drinkers to reconnect with nature through the enjoyment of beer in its organic form,” but Esquire said that, in reality, the Anheuser-Busch brand is also grabbing onto ASMR’s current pop culture moment.
I asked Casey Calvert – a performer and producer who, among many other things, has created ASMR-themed customs – what she thought about trends shaping the commercial, as well as larger cultural issues it may tie together.
“If I had to guess, this commercial makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and they don’t know why,” Calvert told me. “It’s certainly an unusual ad and it got press, but all super bowl commercials get press. I think this commercial is a bold move for Anheuser-Busch for a couple of reasons though.”
“Sure, they’re a company known for unique advertising, especial during the Super Bowl, but is an ASMR ad going to catch people’s attention during the time normally reserved for bathroom breaks and snack refills? I don’t know,” she posited. Thus, though Anheuser-Busch has a long-standing reputation for bold commercials, as Calvert suggests, it’s interesting to consider if this specific commercial resonated with viewers.
Calvert added, “Even if [the commercial] does grab people, they say that for ASMR to truly be effective, it should be listened to through headphones, not your television’s mediocre sound system. Was the point to actually give the viewers an ASMR experience, or to make an ad that people continue to talk about weeks past the game? I still don’t know.”
Regardless of how developed their awareness may be, it’s interesting to consider how many new people must be at least somewhat aware of ASMR on the basis of this ad alone. According to Fortune.com, 98.2 million viewers tuned in to the game this year. And though apparently that number is way low for a Super Bowl, it’s still incredibly high for, like, the world.I asked Calvert if she thought this inevitably increased overall ASMR awareness might have some impact on erotic ASMR content.
“If anything, I think an increased awareness in ASMR in general will only increase the demand for ASMR erotica, but I don’t think people who make a living doing ASMR erotica will see a significant uptick in sales,” Calvert said.
“ASMR walks the fine line between what’s considered safe for work and what’s considered fetish and, right now, it’s considered safe. As far as I can see, Anheuser-Busch didn’t get criticized for releasing a sex commercial. Lots of people didn’t ‘get it,’ but I couldn’t find any press saying it was inappropriate,” she added.
In other words, while playing it bold by engaging something that – yes – is trending but also is still somewhat mysterious, Anheuser-Busch also played it safe. It’s a sexy commercial, sure, but it’s not overtly sexual at all – and that makes a difference.
“There’s so much ASMR content out there for free on sites like YouTube that could so easily be sexualized,” Calvert explained. “Do I think those content creators will get more clicks [due to this] increased awareness? Totally. Do I think people are potentially masturbating to these YouTube ASMR videos? Totally. I just don’t think an awareness of the phenomenon will increase actual fetish video sales.”