Graduate student completes Master’s Thesis research on ASMR-inspired commercials

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityVeronica Pastore is pursuing her M.Sc. degree in Marketing Management at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.

She chose ASMR for the topic of her Master’s Thesis, which was titled, “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) Videos: An Exploratory Analysis of Communication and Sales Potential for Companies.”

This is a timely research topic as more major brands, e.g., Dove, Pepsi, KFC, Ritz, and IKEA, are turning to ASMR-inspired commercials.  Interestingly, the marketing agency behind the Ritz campaign recently shared that their ASMR-inspired campaign led to a 30% increase in sales.

In my interview with Veronica she shares her inspiration for the project, as well as, her goals, methods, hypotheses, results, and tips for other ASMR researchers.

Below are my questions in bold and her replies in italics.

What inspired you to do your thesis about ASMR?

I came across ASMR videos about two years ago while I was looking for a remedy to my insomnia. I was immediately captured by these peculiar videos, given my predisposition to feel ASMR, so I have started exploring the world of ASMR more in depth and then I have realized I could capitalize on my knowledge for my Master of Science thesis.

Did you have a Faculty Advisor for this project?  Did they know about ASMR?

Yes, I have been advised by two Professors, one specialized in advertising and marketing communication and the other one in consumer neuroscience. They both had no idea of what ASMR was when I presented them my project and I have to confess that they were a bit skeptical about my idea at the beginning, but once they understood its innovativeness and unexplored potential, they became very supportive.

What was the general goal of your thesis?

I was particularly interested in exploring whether typical ASMR trigger sounds, like voice whispering, tapping, scratching, crinkling and so on, can represent a valid alternative to music and songs we are used to hearing in commercials.

Furthermore, given my specific interest in marketing, my aim has been to assess if ASMR videos’ peculiar sound setting could improve commercial results and consumers’ attitude in terms of brand evaluation, commercial overall liking, willingness to buy and willingness to pay.

This idea of working specifically on audio stimulation originated from a research gap: existing studies attempting to demonstrate that music is worth the money it requires in advertising industry have led to contrasting results; it is still not so clear whether and how music background impacts on consumers’ attitude and its contribution in improving ad performance.

What were your research objectives?

Objective #1:  To test whether commercials designed like a video intended for stimulating ASMR share the same psycho-somatic effects as non-commercial ASMR videos. As research has showed, ASMR videos aim at stimulating positive effects consisting primarily in a deep feeling of body and mind relaxation, a pleasant tingling sensation and an improved mood (Barratt and Davis, 2015). Given the different purpose of an ASMR-inspired commercial with respect to pure ASMR contents, I wondered whether those effects could have been induced as well or not.

Objective #2: To investigate consumers’ attitude towards an ad designed like an ASMR activating video. To be relevant for marketers and companies, ASMR audio-visual techniques should register positive scores in common marketing parameters like brand evaluation, commercial overall liking, willingness to buy and willingness to pay.

How did you design your experiment?

I have used the Chinese commercial produced by DOVE Chocolate in 2016 as a model, more precisely I have preferred the version with a girl as the protagonist. This ad is the first example of ASMR commercial to be delivered to the market, every typical trigger of ASMR has been applied in it, even though in a shorter format and with a completely different aim.

I created three test versions of this ad, with different audio background, but the same visual content.

Test 1 (Original): The original ad with all its original sounds (whispering, tapping, scratching…).

Test 2 (Whisper with Music added): I removed the original audio, except the whispering, and I added a nice song, as many common ads have.  I kept those whispered sentences of the original ad the same, otherwise lip movements visible on the screen hadn’t their corresponding sounds and this could be unnatural.

Test 3 (Whisper only): I removed the original audio, except the whispering, and did not add any music – so most of the audio was silent.  Respondents were thus exposed just to the visual component of the ad, but original whispered parts had to be kept the same also in this version, for the same reason as before.

How did you administer the testing process?

76 women and 74 men participated in the experiment, for a total of 150 people, aged between 16 and 70 years old.

Every video was seen by 50 respondents, randomly assigned.  Tests were conducted in one-to-one sessions, at the presence of the researcher.

A cover story was told to each participant before taking the test to lessen the so called ‘demand artefact’ bias (Allen and Madden 1985), the tendency of some respondents to answer in a manner they think is expected.

Professional headphones were provided to each participant while watching the test, so to better hear background sounds and to isolate them from possible distractions.

Respondents had to answer a quick quantitative questionnaire right after having seen the assigned ad. Some questions were based on existing models, some others have been designed by my tutor and me. Comparing answers given to the same question by people exposed to different videos, I derived my insights and conclusions.

Which were your specific hypotheses and findings on these tests?

Hypothesis #1: Test 1 will provoke the same somatic reaction (gentle tingling sensation) as non-commercial ASMR videos, while test 2 and 3 will not.

Results for Hypothesis #1: I have asked people to rate if and how they had felt a pleasant tingling sensation spreading in their body while watching the video. Comparing results across videos, Test 1 showed the highest number of people having felt this sensation. Results were statistically significant so I could accept my first hypothesis: if a commercial contains all typical activators/stimuli of ASMR non-commercial videos, it provokes the same tingling feeling (at least in those people who can experience ASMR).

Hypothesis #2: Test 1 will provoke the same emotional reactions (feel of deep relaxation, positive mood and flow-like mental state) as non-commercial ASMR videos, while test 2 and 3 will not.

Results for Hypothesis #2: I have asked respondents to rate their level of numbness, to indicate their level of relaxation, to define their mood and to state their agreement with a series of items referred to flow-like mental state evaluation (Jackson and Marsh, 1996). Unfortunately, we had no evidence that an ad designed to activate Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response could cause numbness, relaxation, mood amelioration or that it could be compared to an immersive flow-like experience, at least answers given by respondents were similar across videos. These results given, our second hypothesis had to be rejected. These first two conclusions, anyway, lead us to partially answer to the first of our original research questions: ads designed to resemble an ASMR activating video share the same somatic but apparently not the same psychological effects as non-commercial ASMR contents.

Hypothesis #3: Test 1 will score better than Test 2 and 3 in commercial activation (induced desire), brand attitude, commercial overall liking, purchase intent and willingness to pay.

Results for Hypothesis #3:  We have tested whether the ad inspired to an ASMR activating video could cause a relevant shift in consumers’ preferences, declined in desire activation, brand evaluation, commercial overall liking, purchase intent and willingness to pay. Also in this case, no statistically relevant results were found to support a consistent shift in consumers’ preferences towards Test 1 against Test 2 and 3. For this reason, I had to reject also Hypothesis 3.

What is your summary of your 3 hypotheses?

Despite the fact that two out of three hypotheses have been rejected because not statistically significant, some interesting conclusions on Test 1 can be drawn looking at results in absolute terms.

Considering my narrow sample, in fact, having statistically significant results could be quite hard, but results in absolute terms can still give some insights at this initial stage of research.

Overall, Dove Chocolate ASMR inspired ad has received highly positive responses to questions related to induced desire, brand evaluation and video evaluation and in some cases, Test 1 did even better than control test n. 2, the one with the song in the background.

These evidences suggest that we can somehow positively answer to the second of our initial research questions: people positively react to commercials designed like an ASMR activating video.

What is the main conclusion you derived from your research?

As my research has demonstrated, an advertisement with ASMR-activating content can be appreciated as much as a traditional commercial containing nice music in the background, even by people not able to feel ASMR and by those who do not even know about it yet.

This suggests that the Dove Chocolate attempt can optimistically represent a valid alternative to innovate and modernize brand communication, riding today’s trend of sensory marketing from a more digital perspective.

Do you plan to do more ASMR research in the future?

I would love to, but having a full time job now I will not have so much time to do it. I will stay tuned to future ASMR research development in any case.

What advice would you give so far to other students thinking about starting an ASMR research study?

This is an extremely rewarding field to do research on, especially if you have a personal interest in it. Your results will be interesting even though not significant or negative, and you will have contributed to expand knowledge about ASMR anyway.

Sometimes, unfortunately, you may find someone who misunderstands your idea or who is a bit skeptical about its value. In this case, do not give up and stay committed: if your project is well structured and based on solid reasoning, people will give credit to it.

Click the links below to learn more about ASMR research:

  • Tips: How to be an ASMR researcher.
  • Insight: Interviews with ASMR researchers.
  • Browse: ASMR research and publications.

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This post brought to you by ASMR University.  A site with the mission of increasing the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

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