ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response to give it its pompous, meaningless and probably pointless full title) means whispering into a microphone so that one’s voice is hardly audible while twiddling one’s hair between two fingers or fondling a towel.
It is an approach to entertainment which makes GDPR look like the number one hit of the year, not least because ASMR is potentially just as incomprehensible, boring and ultimately just as pointless as GDPR. It is, in short, GDPR for those who can’t get enough.
And so, because the Toppled Bollard is always up with the times, this week Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw, senior psychologist in the Department of Certain Things at the University College of the North Circular Road, led a seminar on the topic, in the public bar.
The idea of ASMR is that whispered words, sounds and minute movements can give pleasure. I’m obviously on another planet, perhaps because I deal with words all day long, but I get interest, pleasure, involvement and indeed excitement out of the connections words build when put into meaningful sentences. But I guess I am just plain odd.
It turns out whispering and soft speech is the best way to get a reaction on YouTube at the moment, and there’s no end to the auditory stimuli that can trigger tingles—and YouTubers (a sort of teen and 20s version of TeleTubbies) are willing to try all of them.
If you think it is bonkers you are right. But if you think I am just sitting here making all this up, you might want to try half an hour of soft speech and towel folding here.
As Dr Billy pointed out there are now over 13,000,000 ASMR videos on YouTube and of course there are whispering people who get millions of subscribers and are probably multi-millionaires and friends of President Trump at the same time.
So far so daft. But this is where it all took a funny turn – and also is why so many of us pay good money to attend Dr B’s sessions down the pub.
For as soon as ASMR began to grab the consciousness of the masses, so advertising agencies lept forth and started telling their clients that ASMR is the new BIG THING. And the clients bought into it.
Except that instead of quiet speech and towel folding (or fiddling with your hair – which is something I have trouble doing these days but is very popular in ASMR) what one car company put out were videos of intense music, fast cars, fireballs, explosions, a close accident, screeching brakes, car boots and doors slamming, driving next to a steep cliff, lightning strikes, and lots of engine revving.
Not exactly a relaxing and soothing experience, but a typical example of a smart talking ad agency telling the client it knew all about whatever it was, even though it didn’t, and then delivering the same old same old under a new name.
So what is ASMR really about? Dr B told us that he’d looked it up on a website and found this explanation, which he managed to deliver without giggling…
“ASMR is a pleasant tingling feeling that you experience when you hear unique, soft voices, or soothing sounds such as scratching and tapping, whispering and brushing. This tingling sensation is euphoric. It starts at the back of your head, travels down through your spine into your limbs relaxing you, giving you a feeling of well being.”
Another explanation, the good Doctor reported, was that it was an invented load of old cobblers that enabled people with little talent to make a lot of money by getting unsuspecting members of the public to buy towels from them.
“And the lesson,” Dr Billy concluded, “is that the old adage ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time,’ is as true today as ever. Whether you are being honest and honorable or you are leading people up a bendy garden path, you still have to know your audience.”
And I don’t think we can disagree with that.
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