'ASMR toys' at big box stores may just be fidget toys in disguise

Launched in October, just in time for the holiday shopping season, was a line of multicolored, brightly packaged toys that promised to be "oddly satisfying," and give you tingles.  Two out of six of the products came in blind bag packaging, which has become a children’s toy industry trend in and of itself, with price points ranging between three and 20 dollars. Each toy had tactile and auditory features such as plastic gears that make a clicking noise.  ASMR had come to the shelves of Wal-Mart.  Since its quiet emergence onto the internet in 2010, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has become a cultural phenomenon and a viable interpersonal community. It has led to thousands of ASMR creators and 13 million videos on YouTube alone, including Cardi B’s W Magazine ASMR video which garnered well over 46 million views. While rigorous studies of the sensation are in short supply, there are self reported benefits of relaxation and improved sleep among people who experience it.  This is not the first time that ASMR has bled into the world of marketing. In 2017, Ritz Crackers ran an ASMR-inspired campaign and noticed a 33% increase in sales relating to their launch. ASMR reached its advertising pinnacle, however, when Michelob Ultra’s Pure Gold commercial starring Zoe Kravitz aired during the Superbowl in 2019. Kravitz, seen tapping on a glass beer bottle and whispering into a microphone, gave mainstream audiences a glimpse into what advertisers believed was ASMR's marketing potential.  Now ASMR has made the inevitable transition from niche internet community to commodity.  Strategic placement in the children’s toy aisle would lend consumers to believe that kids are the intended target of the company’s marketing. This fact remains unclear considering the age demographic of ASMR participation falls within the 18-24 range. Kids' participation in ASMR is also a controversial subject. If this is the case, then are these toys simply a clever venture to recreate the success of toys we have already seen before? The toys' reception by the ASMR vanguard has been lukewarm. Karuna Satori, who runs a successful ASMR YouTube channel, reviewed the Sensory FX toys earlier this fall and came away less than impressed. She noted the overt similarities they shared with fidget toys. “The Mega Cube is basically a re-edition of the fidget cube,” Satori said in her video. The ASMR Bars and the ASMR Pods are meant to be collected, the former to be used alone or in conjunction with either of the largest toys in the line - The Mega Bar and The Mega Cube. The last two toys both have a rudimentary built in recording system, a feature that Satori found disappointing due to static during playback.   “The microphone is really cheap,” said Satori, who nevertheless said the The Mega Cube was the best of the bunch. She said  “...you get the recorder, there’s more to do, and you don’t need to collect them all.” This is not to say that all ASMR toys serve no purpose.  Craig A.H. Richard, Ph.D., is a professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University, and the founder of ASMR University. Richard suggests that the manufacturer may not have considered the fact that the ASMR experience is contingent on demonstrative elements.  “ASMR is usually stimulated when you are in the presence of a kind or caring person who may be speaking gently, moving gently, or making gentle sounds with something they are holding or demonstrating,” said Richard. “These toys can be used to stimulate ASMR, but not in the user of the toys.” Dr. Richard explains the possible reason for this in his hypothesis written in 2014, regarding the origin theory of ASMR. He suggests that relying on a demonstrating individual for tingles may harken to something biological - ASMR and bonding behaviors share similar triggers and consequently stimulate the release of the same feel good chemicals in the brain.  “Triggers that stimulate ASMR in individuals may actually be activating the biological pathways of interpersonal bonding and affiliative behaviors...These bonding behaviors and molecules [endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin]  may provide a good explanation for most of the triggers and responses associated with ASMR,” Richard said.  This would render The Mega Cube and The Mega Bar as the only toys within the Sensory FX lineup that might ostensibly create ASMR sans a demonstrator.  The best way to predicate ASMR toys’ effectiveness would be to analyze them through the familiar lens of the fidget toy, popularized among children in 2017.    Dr. Richard purports that fidget toys can mitigate the effects of anxiety, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders among individuals.  “Any curious toy that strongly engages the interest of a child will decrease the global activity across the brain to result in more specific active areas of the brain,” says Richard.  “In short, a focused child is a focused brain, and a focused brain may help to calm a child.” Like fidget toys, Sens

'ASMR toys' at big box stores may just be fidget toys in disguise

Launched in October, just in time for the holiday shopping season, was a line of multicolored, brightly packaged toys that promised to be "oddly satisfying," and give you tingles. 

Two out of six of the products came in blind bag packaging, which has become a children’s toy industry trend in and of itself, with price points ranging between three and 20 dollars. Each toy had tactile and auditory features such as plastic gears that make a clicking noise. 

ASMR had come to the shelves of Wal-Mart. 

Since its quiet emergence onto the internet in 2010, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has become a cultural phenomenon and a viable interpersonal community. It has led to thousands of ASMR creators and 13 million videos on YouTube alone, including Cardi B’s W Magazine ASMR video which garnered well over 46 million views. While rigorous studies of the sensation are in short supply, there are self reported benefits of relaxation and improved sleep among people who experience it. 

This is not the first time that ASMR has bled into the world of marketing. In 2017, Ritz Crackers ran an ASMR-inspired campaign and noticed a 33% increase in sales relating to their launch. ASMR reached its advertising pinnacle, however, when Michelob Ultra’s Pure Gold commercial starring Zoe Kravitz aired during the Superbowl in 2019. Kravitz, seen tapping on a glass beer bottle and whispering into a microphone, gave mainstream audiences a glimpse into what advertisers believed was ASMR's marketing potential. 

Now ASMR has made the inevitable transition from niche internet community to commodity. 

Strategic placement in the children’s toy aisle would lend consumers to believe that kids are the intended target of the company’s marketing. This fact remains unclear considering the age demographic of ASMR participation falls within the 18-24 range. Kids' participation in ASMR is also a controversial subject. If this is the case, then are these toys simply a clever venture to recreate the success of toys we have already seen before?

The toys' reception by the ASMR vanguard has been lukewarm. Karuna Satori, who runs a successful ASMR YouTube channel, reviewed the Sensory FX toys earlier this fall and came away less than impressed. She noted the overt similarities they shared with fidget toys.

“The Mega Cube is basically a re-edition of the fidget cube,” Satori said in her video.

The ASMR Bars and the ASMR Pods are meant to be collected, the former to be used alone or in conjunction with either of the largest toys in the line - The Mega Bar and The Mega Cube. The last two toys both have a rudimentary built in recording system, a feature that Satori found disappointing due to static during playback.  

“The microphone is really cheap,” said Satori, who nevertheless said the The Mega Cube was the best of the bunch. She said  “...you get the recorder, there’s more to do, and you don’t need to collect them all.”

This is not to say that all ASMR toys serve no purpose. 

Craig A.H. Richard, Ph.D., is a professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University, and the founder of ASMR University. Richard suggests that the manufacturer may not have considered the fact that the ASMR experience is contingent on demonstrative elements

“ASMR is usually stimulated when you are in the presence of a kind or caring person who may be speaking gently, moving gently, or making gentle sounds with something they are holding or demonstrating,” said Richard. “These toys can be used to stimulate ASMR, but not in the user of the toys.”

Dr. Richard explains the possible reason for this in his hypothesis written in 2014, regarding the origin theory of ASMR. He suggests that relying on a demonstrating individual for tingles may harken to something biological - ASMR and bonding behaviors share similar triggers and consequently stimulate the release of the same feel good chemicals in the brain. 

“Triggers that stimulate ASMR in individuals may actually be activating the biological pathways of interpersonal bonding and affiliative behaviors...These bonding behaviors and molecules [endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin]  may provide a good explanation for most of the triggers and responses associated with ASMR,” Richard said. 

This would render The Mega Cube and The Mega Bar as the only toys within the Sensory FX lineup that might ostensibly create ASMR sans a demonstrator. 

The best way to predicate ASMR toys’ effectiveness would be to analyze them through the familiar lens of the fidget toy, popularized among children in 2017.   

Dr. Richard purports that fidget toys can mitigate the effects of anxiety, ADHD, and sensory processing disorders among individuals. 

“Any curious toy that strongly engages the interest of a child will decrease the global activity across the brain to result in more specific active areas of the brain,” says Richard.  “In short, a focused child is a focused brain, and a focused brain may help to calm a child.”

Like fidget toys, Sensory FX’s smaller toy offerings, such as the ASMR Bars and the ASMR Pods, are portable, making them readily available. There’s even a small carrying case for the Pods that resembles a keychain. Though they can be valuable for some students, many popular fidget toys were banned outright by schools

According to Richard, while fidget toys can be any small and engaging item that encourages the user to manipulate it, they may move too fast or be too loud to be good at stimulating ASMR in an observer. 

This would suggest that Sensory FX has attempted to rebrand fidget toys as ASMR toys, perhaps in order to capitalize on a growing trend and the buying power of millennial money.

Dr. Richard says that, “All items labeled as ‘ASMR toys’ would probably work well as fidget toys, but not all fidget toys would fit the criteria of an ideal ‘ASMR toy.’”

So if you want that tingly feeling, the aisles of Wal-Mart may not be the best place to get it.