Hershey gets touchy-feely with ASMR campaign for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Hershey Canada is literally trying to give Canadians chills with a new marketing ploy for its Reese Peanut Butter Cup brand that uses the fast-growing practice of autonomous sensory meridian response, better known as ASMR.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups will be featured alongside five popular ASMR practitioners—otherwise known as “ASMRtists”—in an 80-minute movie called Reese the Movie: A Movie About Reese, set to debut on the streaming service Crave on June 9 before rolling out to YouTube on June 17.

Reese has a long association with the movies that dates back to Reese’s Pieces’ 1982 appearance in ET, but it’s among a select few brands—including IKEA, KFC and Michelob —that has dabbled in the ASMR space. It’s part of a brand-building effort intended to create “deeper meaning” between the brand and its core consumers says Mathieu Gamache, senior marketing manager for Reese, Oh Henry, Mix and Crunchers, with Hershey Canada.

ASMR was first coined around 2010, and is defined as a tingling sensation—variously described as “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms”—that starts at the crown of the head and works its way throughout the whole body.

ASMR can be triggered by a variety of auditory and visual cues, such as whispering, tapping of nails on various surfaces, lip-smacking or, according to 2018 report entitled More Than a Feeling, watching people do things in a “careful, attentive way” (eg. filling out a form).

Among the study’s key findings: The heart rate of people experiencing ASMR slowed by an average of three beats per minute, while their skin conductance levels—a measure of the skin’s ability to become a better conductor of electricity– were significantly increased.

ASMR’s increased popularity (interest in the videos on YouTube has risen steadily in the past five years according to Google) has given rise to a whole cadre of ASMRtists, who have uploaded some 5.2 million videos showing them engaging in activities ranging from “unintelligible whispering” to “extremely tingly tapping.”

The Reese movie fits with the brand’s affinity for what Gamache describes as “smart, witty humour,” emboldened by its fans’ willingness to support unorthodox marketing approaches. “We can be ahead of trends or even define trends,” he says. “They seem to give us permission to try and innovate.”

The movie will bring to life what Hershey calls the “Reese ritual”—the way in which fans open and eat the peanut butter cups—with assistance from the group of five ASMRtists, who fans have dubbed the “Avengers of ASMR.” They include the U.S.-based ASMR Darling, Gibi ASMR and Matty Tingles, as well as Canadians ALB in Whisperland and Seafoam Kitten, who collectively have more than 4.7 million YouTube subscribers.

The campaign grew out of a test conducted by Hershey Canada last spring, in which one-dozen Canadians filmed themselves eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while commenting about what they were thinking and feeling.

“Everyone had their own little way of how they would go about eating—the way they opened the package, the way they would remove the single wrapper from each cup,” says Gamache. It was fascinating for us, and we saw ASMR as a great way to bring that ritual to life.”

Hershey conducted a small test with two ASMRtists, including Gibi ASMR, in November to gauge how receptive ASMR enthusiasts would be to its appearance the space. “We wanted to see if we as a brand had permission to play in that space, and also to learn how our product would be used in ASMR techniques and how the audience would react,” says Gamache.

Nearly 1 million people watched the 20-minute test video on Gibi ASMR’s official YouTube channel (below), which Gamache says yielded “a ton” of insight that Hershey and its agency partner Anomaly used to develop a 60-page script for the feature-length movie.

The film is directed by Canadian Jamie Webster of Common Good, who is best known for his creative collaboration with the R&B duo Majid Jordan. Canadian cinematographer Andre Turpin brings 40 years of experience to the piece, including the video for Adele’s song “Hello,” which has garnered more than 2.5 billion views on YouTube.

The movie is divided into five chapters, each dedicated to a specific phase of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup consumption: interacting with the package, opening the package, sliding out the cup, unwrapping the cup and indulging in the cup. “It’s not a classic movie scenario at all,” says Gamache. “It really respects the form of ASMR. They’re really using all of the ASMR tools to create triggers.”

Gamache says that both ASMR and chocolate consumption share common traits, most notably the fact that both are typically “wind-down” activities most likely to occur in the evening.

“It’s a shifting of gears between a busy work day and relaxing,” says Gamache. “A lot of our consumption happens with people sitting on the couch in their favourite sweats and watching their favourite TV show. ASMR is used for exactly that reason—it relaxes you, it relieves stress and can help you got to sleep.”

Reese’s core customer and ASMR enthusiasts are aligned along both demographic and psychographic lines, says Gamache, becoming their “true selves” after work is over. “Their life outside of work is really where they come to life,” he says. “That home bubble is where both Reese consumption and ASMR consumption is happening.”

The media plan by UM Canada treats Reese the Movie like a traditional movie launch, with a teaser campaign debuting across social and online this week, accompanied by transit shelter advertising.

Hershey has also created a series of six- and 15-second cut-downs that highlight various aspects of the Reese Ritual. These cut-down versions will appear during a takeover of the June 9 season premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale on Bravo, marking the first time a brand has taken over all of a program’s inventory on the Bell Media-owned service.

The high-impact, traditional media placement ensures significant attention with those who may not be able to experience ASMR—or are even somewhat bemused by the whole thing (raises hand). “Most people look at what we’re doing and say ‘What the hell is that?’ but people who are in the know get it,” says Gamache.

Gamache says that rather than a :30 or :60-second spot, Hershey opted to create an 80-minute video out of respect for the ASMR community, which is comprised of millions of adherents who claim it contributes to feelings of restfulness and relaxation. The average ASMR video is more than 30 minutes in length.

“It’s a huge community, and pretty protective of ASMR,” says Gamache. “We didn’t want to come across as a big corporation jumping on a trend and trying to appropriate their art. We wanted to contribute to this art form.”

It’s not without its potential pitfalls, however. Audiences were polarized by Michelob Ultra’s ASMR spot featuring Zoe Kravitz during this year’s Super Bowl. According to a report by Business Insider, about 54% of the more than 4,200 tweets sent after the spot’s appearance were negative.

It was a case where a mainstream brand’s reliance on ASMR as a marketing ploy was a touch too much.

Chris Powell