ASMR is now mainstream

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionASMR: Amol Rajan meets Whispers Red in her Tingle Shed

How many hours, roughly, do you spend each week watching - and listening to - videos of people whispering into microphones, stroking rough objects, crackling bubble-wrap and making similar sounds?

I only ask because there is a significant chance that if the answer is "not much", your answer may change once you get into ASMR.

People are always writing or talking about the 'biggest thing on the internet that you've never heard of'. I do it quite a lot. ASMR is a decent candidate for that claim. It refers to Auto Sensory Meridian Response: a genre of videos that induce a tingling feeling in the viewer, and which aim to calm, nurture or soothe.

ASMR has generated an international community, because some of the videos, available on YouTube and elsewhere, have been watched tens of millions of times.

ASMR has now gone mainstream. This year's Super Bowl advert, perhaps the most hyped and talked about advertisement in the world, was inspired by ASMR. And the video for Billy Eilish's Bad Guy is inspired in part by ASMR.

Some of the videos strike viewers as erotic in nature. But that's not the aim - or at least not the primary aim. ASMR is supposed to create a feeling of hyper-intimacy, creating physical sensations in the viewer that the internet doesn't generally engender. I certainly felt like there was a waterfall in my head when I went into The Tingle Shed, which is the studio of Whispers Red, one of Britain's leading ASMRtists, as they are known.

That physical response shows how the barrier between the online and off-line world is crumbling.

ASMR-type videos have created other genres that are, if anything, more popular. Suffused with squelching and rustling sounds, these videos are referred to as "satisfying videos" by ASMRtists, but distinguished from ASMR by the fact that they don't set out to nurture or soothe in the video.

Aside from being a remarkable viewing phenomenon in itself, ASMR really does have the power to transform the advertising industry. For most people, ads are background noise, and a tedious distraction. But if you can get people hooked on ASMR, inducing relaxation and hyper-sensitivity, before pummelling them with a message about the greatness of some brand, well, that could be effective.

I reported on the phenomenon for the 10 O'clock News on BBC1 on Good Friday. The report was shot by Nigel Craze and Rob Wood, edited by Richard O'Neill and produced by Elizabeth Needham-Bennett.

If you're interested in issues such as these, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook; and subscribe to The Media Show podcast from Radio 4.