Lo-fi video trends to watch

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These audio-first examples are part of a calming video trend.

Sophie Al-Bassam

Take a deep breath. In and out. And another. Feel your body relax and your heart rate slow. Feels good, doesn’t it?

We are increasingly bombarded with information in many different forms, and have underlying stress from worldwide events, so moments of calm feel precious. For me, moments of calm can change my day, even my perspective.

With smartphones in arm’s reach 24h-hours a day, spare time looks different than it used to. It reminds me of catching the train and watching the older people sit and stare out the window for a long time. Everyone else is scrolling through their phone, with no space for quiet reflection or unexpected creative ideas.

But even being online can become a calming experience. There are a range of video trends that are audio first and promote relaxation or focus, designed to block out other distractions. They are huge on YouTube, the world’s second most popular website.

These calming videos set the mood and as they provide a community context to an individual experience, may even alleviate loneliness, Wired suggests.

Loneliness has increased since the start of the pandemic in young people. And watching a video with others, even when it’s to switch off from distractions and relax, is a way of connecting.

The 2021 YouTube trend report highlighted “lo-fi” as one of the key video trends. It points to Lofi Girl, a live stream with a looping animation of an anime-inspired character with chill hip hop. The character Lofi Girl is like a companion to your relaxation or focus. It is just one of a growing number of similar YouTube music channels.

Starting in 2017, the music of Lofi Girl has a tempo of 70–90 beats per minute, the same as the average resting heartbeat. There are 9.37 million subscribers. People comment or connect in the live stream’s chat. YouTube comments it has become “a symbol of shared experience and digital proximity”. 

Brands and audio-led video: what not to do

Pepsi tried to create their own version of the trend in September 2020, with an endless stream of music about… Pepsi. It was a flop: instead of the usual instrumental, always-changing music of the trend, Pepsi included lyrics. And it only had three songs, that became annoying rather quickly. And the hard sell, which was distracting, was in opposition with the calm the genre usually promotes.

Brands and audio-led video: how to get it right

NSW National Parks however, gets the trend right. In 2020 they released a series of soothing Nature Sounds videos. The static video sets the scene and the sounds of rushing water and singing birds provide an excellent audio background for relaxation.

They bring the calming video trend to life in a way that’s relevant to their brand, and valuable to their audience.

Meditation app Calm partnered with French producer FKJ for a 20-minute piano performance spanning musical genres. The evocative video struck a chord for Heads & Tales editorial director Sophie Knox.

“I don’t remember being this moved by a piece of music for a long time. Not just because of how it sounds but the actual performance space, the forest-like location, the lighting, the focus on his fingers moving across the keys… it all compounds to represent a little bit of magic,” she says.

What we can learn

Although a live stream lo-fi hip hop beats may not be a trend many brands can successfully try, marketers can learn from this trend.

Less is sometimes more. The success of lo-fi is partly due to its minimalism. Wired says it is “spare but luxurious”. Your audience might be time poor, but that doesn’t mean you need to cram everything into one message.

It’s not about you. If brands want to jump on the bandwagon of the trend, learn from Pepsi and avoid product placement. Sponsor quality content that people want to consume. For example, HCF podcast Navigating Parenthood produced by Heads & Tales is not about HCF or health insurance, it’s about parenting. HCF sponsor the podcast to show that they understand their members and can help them with their problems. The result is trust in their brand.

Live stream: broadcasting video live online has boomed since 2019. Around 85% of Americans under 44 have watched a live stream over the past 12 months. If you run events, live streaming is an important step in your marketing strategy. “Live and simultaneous viewing help people gain a sense of community,” says Gina Shilavi from YouTube.

Connect: People are looking for a way to connect, even when they want to switch off. Communities can be created around meaningful content. 

Create immersive content: The lo-fi trend takes primarily audio content and boosts it with video. This is also seen in other video trends, such as video podcasts. A 2019 US study found that YouTube was, surprisingly, the most popular place for podcast consumption.

More calming video trends to follow

The surprising revival of 80s artist Bob Ross: The official Bob Ross YouTube channel, run by the late artist’s company, has more than 4 million subscribers and more than 360 million total views.

ASMR: sounds like brushing or whispering that trigger a tingling feeling in some and annoy the hell out of others. An ASMR cooking trend is also growing.

Oddly satisfying: Instagram named this the fastest-growing niche back in 2018. Imagine slowly pouring slime, cleaning very dirty tiles or slicing through noodles. Yes, odd.

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Sophie Al-Bassam, senior managing editor, Heads & Tales