Yesterday, Ikea released a new digital ad spot–and it’s not the jaunty 30-second video you may have (reasonably) expected. Instead, the commercial is 25 minutes long, and a large portion of it consists of a tightly cropped shot of hands making a bed. The narrator, speaking in a slow whisper, meticulously narrates this action–while interspersedly plugging Ikea bedding.
Depending on your fluency in internet subcultures, you may recognize this style as an imitation of the ASMR videos popular on YouTube. Coined in an internet chatroom in 2010, the term ASMR describes a tingling sensation some people get when listening to soft sounds, like whispering, hair-brushing, or sheet-smoothing. A sizable internet community has formed around producing and watching videos that induce ASMR: On YouTube, there are over 9 million of them, mostly low-budget and made by self-described “ASMRtists.” And now, a Swedish flatpack furniture giant.
Ikea’s video, entitled “Oddly Ikea,” was created by the advertising firm Ogilvy in its New York office. It promotes Ikea’s back-to-school line for college dorms, and is only available online. In a statement for AdWeek, Ikea and Ogilvy explain that the ad was inspired by the comfort and relaxation people who experience ASMR report feeling. Also, ASMR clearly has a very large, and growing, fan base.
“We knew that ASMR videos are very popular, especially with young people, college students, and Ikea coworkers,” the two companies wrote to AdWeek. “So we put two and two together. Our products are designed to help people every day. Our dorm room solutions help students relax after a long day. So we thought of content that does the same.”
Over the past decade, ASMR has grown to encompass several different sub-genres. Some videos feature an ASMRtist looking straight into the camera while talking in a low whisper or brushing hair. Others feature role-play, with the ASMR sounds part of a larger, often fantastical story. Still others focus in on a pair of hands performing ASMR-inducing tasks: tapping fingernails, scratching rough surfaces, peeling an orange.
Ikea’s video imitates the latter–which suits a company trying to showcase its products. While the ASMR community was built around people who used ASMR to cope with trauma, depression, anxiety, or merely relax from their day, its popularity has recently piqued the interest of brands. KFC has made an ASMR-inspired commercial, and Google BrandLab--the company’s internal marketing arm for partner advertisers–has published an entire blog post on how brands can capitalize off of the phenomenon. ASMR videos often use everyday objects–like computer keyboards, hairbrushes, food products, furniture–which makes them ripe for brands to co-opt for advertising.
For Ikea, the comforting, safety, and relaxation aspects of ASMR make it especially fitting for advertising bedding and furniture. But, as AdWeek repoted, Ikea and Ogilvy didn’t work with any YouTube personalities or influencers in the ASMR community to make the commercial. If you’re going to appropriate a subculture for commercial value, the least you can do is incorporate and consult with the community that gave it its rise.
See the full video above and more shorts from the commercial below: