ASMR Shortbread receives requests to make custom videos after viewers have suffered bereavements, break-ups, and trouble at home. The 27-year-old from Scotland, also known as Shortie, is the top ASMR creator on Cameo, the online service better known for celebrity video messages. Many of her clients tell her they are struggling, and that her videos help them get through tough times.
“My channel focuses a lot on personal attention, being that caring friend," Shortie told Motherboard. "I would say the majority of [requests] are looking for just a chat really, somebody to talk to.” She described ASMR as “intimacy, but at a distance.”
There has been a huge growth in demand for personalized ASMR during the coronavirus pandemic. ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” a feeling which audiences often describe as “tingles.” Common triggers include whispering, tapping, repetition and slow movements.
ASMRists, as creators are known, have been recording more bespoke videos on request through online platforms, as well as directly via their own websites and YouTube channels.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the personalized video platform Wisio told Motherboard it has experienced around a 2,100 percent increase in the amount of ASMR requests. The number of monthly bookings with instructions to include ASMR on Cameo doubled between March and December 2020, and freelance marketplace Fiverr also experienced a 673 percent increase in year-on-year searches for ASMR related services, the companies said.
Shortie, who asked for her real name not to be used due to privacy concerns, joined Cameo towards the end of 2019, and has gone from receiving around one request per month to as many as three to five per week. She first noticed a substantial rise last April after stay-at-home orders were issued, and again in November as COVID-19 restrictions were tightened.
Shortie said she does feel a sense of responsibility when receiving a request related to a particularly sensitive matter, such as the loss of a family member, noting that she is not an expert or psychologist.
“I still can't quite comprehend how I am helping people but I get comments saying I am so it’s brilliant and I’m really pleased," she said. “It honestly is the best feeling… I'm blown away.”
The increase in demand for custom videos has taken place at a time when people’s mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. Recent research has shown an increase in depression, anxiety, and loneliness as many struggle with grief, unemployment, uncertainty and isolation. Neurologists have also coined the term ‘COVID-Somnia’ to describe the rise in sleep disorders.
Many fans watch or listen to ASMR as a stress or sleep aid. According to a 2015 study in the journal PeerJ, 82 percent of participants surveyed said they used it to help them fall asleep, and 70 percent did so to deal with stress. The results also suggested that ASMR may provide temporary relief in mood for those with depression.
A 2018 study in PLOS ONE similarly found that those who experienced the sensation of ASMR reported decreased levels of sadness and stress as well as feelings of interpersonal connection, and also exhibited reductions in their heart rate, after watching a range of videos. These findings indicated there may be therapeutic benefits to ASMR and could explain why it is being sought out throughout this period.
Dr. Craig Richard, who founded ASMR University, expects future research to show that ASMR continued to be beneficial during the pandemic.
He described ASMR as “just another item on the menu of relaxation techniques,” and compared personalized videos, which involve customers being able to request specific triggers, to getting “to pick and choose the foods that you like the most” at a buffet.
Richard was a co-author of a 2018 fMRI study which found that specific areas of the brain light up while someone's watching an ASMR video. He explained: “One of those regions is the medial prefrontal cortex and that is dense with oxytocin receptors, and oxytocin is often referred to as the love hormone or the trust hormone.”
During the pandemic, people have been missing out on frequent social interactions and positive personal attention, which includes light touch and being in the presence of others, he said. “But you can still get a similar oxytocin stimulation perhaps by watching or listening to ASMR.”
Richard added consumers are turning to personalized videos and ASMRists they already feel a close connection to, because “that makes it more comforting and more effective for them to deal with the stress they’re feeling during the pandemic”.
Andromeda Keliane, 19, has been watching ASMR since high school as a tool to help them sleep, relax and study. They first ordered a custom video in September, and have since purchased two more.
The university student, based in Brisbane, Australia, said they took the next step of commissioning bespoke ASMR because of the connection they had formed with a particular ASMR creator. “I really enjoyed [Miss Manganese ASMR’s] content and the relaxation effect on me from her videos was very, very strong, and also it was in a time when, due to external stresses related to the pandemic and otherwise, I was struggling to sleep,” Keliane told Motherboard.
They believe ASMR has been a good way for people to relax and unwind amid a time of extreme pressures. For Keliane, personalization has the dual benefits of “both increasing the concentration and amount of triggers that I find effective [and] also removing certain sounds and features of other videos that I don't like or connect with”.
Bemmerse, a personalized ASMR app, also saw a spike in growth when lockdowns started last year, the company told Motherboard. It has a database of 250 triggers and has found that less than 10% will give ASMR tingles to any individual viewer, which underlines the desire for customization.
Melissa Moore, 50, who has an e-commerce business and lives in Atlanta, has been listening to ASMR for at least eight years. Her personal triggers include listening to someone explaining, reading or trying to teach something. “The sound of the voices tend to just put me in a calm state,” she said.
Her experience highlighted another factor in the boom in demand for personalized content during the pandemic: the greater availability. On Wisio, for example, there has been a 700% increase in the number of ASMR creators who have joined the platform each month since last March.
This has provided an opportunity to develop income streams for smaller-name ASMRists on YouTube where, by 2018, there were more than 13 million ASMR videos.
Since joining Fiverr in July 2020, Vaiva, who goes by RainbowASMR, is already paying her rent from the extra income she gets from her “side hustle” of recording personalized requests. The 25-year-old recent college graduate in Denmark also occasionally orders custom videos to support other creators.
“I think this is the most meaningful work probably I will ever do in my life,” she told Motherboard, when asked about the difference her ASMR videos make to her customers.
ASMR enthusiast Moore has commissioned five bespoke videos since finding out about the possibility to do so in October, and has already pre-ordered a package of another five, with the intention of being a regular purchaser every month. She has an ASMR playlist she listens to almost every day, with her custom videos at the top.
“It's the added benefit of hearing very, very specific content," Moore said. "That's the bonus.”