This past Sunday during the Super Bowl, while Bud Light was busy burning Dilly Dilly to the ground and setting off a full-fledged #corntroversy, another ABI brand was going about things a bit more quietly. Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, a USDA-certified organic version of the popular, active lifestyle-focused, “superior light beer,” whispered to get attention.
Their ad features actress Zoe Kravitz on a wooden platform, seated at a raw-edge, lucite-legged table in front of a lush mountain range, whispering gently into microphones on either side of her. As she speaks softly, she taps on the bottle with her fingernails, rolls its ridged bottom along the table, twists off the cap, and, of course, slowly pours the beer, creating a sonic experience along the way. In doing so, the spot not only introduced Pure Gold to the mainstream, but also ASMR.
ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is a tingling sensation some people get on the back of their necks or down their spines. Think of it like when your hairs stand on end. Everything Kravitz does in the ad is meant to trigger it.
Individual triggers vary from person to person, but include whispering, tapping, brushing, crumpling paper, and turning pages. A quick YouTube search reveals dozens more. That same search also reveals just how popular ASMR really is, with subscribers to some channels exceeding two million, and views for some videos topping 30 million.
Growing popularity aside, though, it still seems like an odd—and niche—way to sell beer.
Azania Andrews, vice president of marketing for Michelob Ultra, thinks it makes perfect sense. “The meaning of health and wellness is broadening—for some people it’s going for a run, and for others it’s meditating or listening to ASMR,” she tells GBH. “We see ASMR as another way people are finding balance in their life, and we thought a nature-inspired ASMR experience was a disruptive way to bring the Pure Gold state-of-mind to the Super Bowl.”
Pure Gold was developed as a way to meet the needs of a growing segment of people focused on clean living, and a lack of beer choices aligned with that lifestyle. “As we developed the campaign, we’d been talking a lot about the strong connection between the beer and nature,” Andrews says. “From there, we explored the ways that people are reconnecting with nature and themselves—relaxation techniques like ASMR.”
To ensure that they delivered an authentic ASMR experience, Andrews and Michelob Ultra’s agency, FCB Chicago, hired Craig Richard PhD, founder of ASMR University—that’s right, ASMR University—and author of Brain Tingles, to consult on the ad.
“When Pure Gold/FCB first approached me about using ASMR in a Super Bowl commercial I knew they had done their homework,” Richard says. “ASMR is rising rapidly but steadily in popularity, and not in the way of a quick fad or temporary trend. People aren't just curious about it—they are adopting it as their go-to relaxation technique like yoga, meditation, focused breathing, and mindfulness.”
His suggestions to reach those folks included not relying on nature sounds, but rather the sounds generated by Kravitz, as well as omitting music entirely to ensure the potential triggers come through clearly.
If the comments on the spot’s YouTube page are any indication, the ad hit the mark. Username Tongue Drum Journey ASMR says, “As an ASMRtist, I approve this advertisement.” While username TimmyCrackCorn notes, “This actually gave me ASMR during it's [sic] original airing!” Whether or not those in the ASMR community will start directing their dollars toward Pure Gold is yet to be seen.
Regardless, Andrews claims that the product is already making an impact and helping to stem the flow of beer drinkers looking for their tingles in other forms of alcohol. “Since we launched last year, Pure Gold has already been attracting more of these organic-minded consumers who previously gravitated towards spirits, wine, and Mexican imports.”
To that end, Pure Gold had a wildly successful launch in 2018. In IRI-tracked grocery, convenience, and other stores, it sold almost the same volume as the entire Stone Brewing portfolio. With this extra push and continued advertising, it could get within a stone’s throw of Modelo Negra in 2019.
As the number of active, health-conscious, ingredient-concerned drinkers continues to grow, it will be interesting to see if Pure Gold can put up the sort of numbers its non-organic juggernaut of a sibling, Michelob Ultra, has. In the meantime, expect more sensory experiences attempting to push Pure Gold out of the realm of whispered secrets and into the mainstream.