“TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING”

“TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING”

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“TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING”

by Pablo Muñoz (CEO of FCB Spain & VP of BCMA Spain)and Daniel Calabuig (Creative Director of DDB Spain)

Chapter 1

“Transmedia. The art of storytelling for the 21st century”

There probably isn’t a single reason behind the boom in transmedia narrative. The appearance of more and more interactive media, their capacity to provide more immersive, participatory experiences, along with the demand for new contents from a saturated audience are just a few of the factors that have contributed to the growth of this new method of storytelling.

It’s already been more than ten years since the premiere of movies like The Blair Witch Project and A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Buddy Lee Challenge campaign for the Lee Jeans clothing brand. Since then, the term transmedia has taken root and every year more examples of this type of narrative appear, in more and more different fields, including commercial communications.

Brands such as Audi, Starbucks and Intel have already taken their first tentative steps in this area, and Coca Cola hired the services of the transmedia consultant Jeff Gomez, who is responsible for (among other things) the transmedia design of Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Now then, what exactly are we talking about when we talk about transmedia? Is it something Hollywood came up with, or can it be applied to communications about the most conventional of commercial products? If so, what does this imply? What new aspects does it contribute?

Let’s take it one step at a time.

  1. What is transmedia communications?

The term transmedia is an attempt to give a name to all the narrative experiences that unfold by means of various media or platforms, in such a way that each tells a part of a great overall narrative and where the spectator participates in a significant manner.

What’s new here is the idea that narrators can create new, more profound experiences for their audiences, something that particularly interests Hollywood, but that Madison Avenue is also keeping a close eye on. After all, brands also have stories that need to reach their audiences.

We the consumers do not assimilate contents in a rational manner (in other words, understanding the key message and saving it away in our brains), rather we relate to the brand in an emotional way, or what boils down to the same thing, we become fans. Telling stories about a brand (or even better, the story of a brand) is an excellent way to establish this link and build our own audience.

  1. What does transmedia contribute to a brand?

All transmedia initiatives are still something new, and therefore those who “dare” to try transmedia are still seen as innovative risk-takers. Because of this, audiences feel like they are doing something special and different, and at the same time it is fairly easy for the brands to obtain media coverage for their initiative.

But more importantly, transmedia is a great mechanism for engagement, as it makes it possible to tell a brand’s story in a participative manner that involves and excites the audience. This makes transmedia narratives an excellent consolidator of audiences, people interested (and even passionate) about what is being communicated to them. While advertising is seen as an interruption of what we’re really interested in, transmedia communication is able to generate high-interest brand content.

  1. Transmedia communication is based on depth

The key is to design a transmedia story well. It’s not about butchering a story, cutting it apart at more or less arbitrary points; each of its parts must derive maximum value from each medium. Each part should be capable of providing a micro-experience that stimulates a desire to know more.

For these reasons, a transmedia campaign works entirely opposite from a conventional campaign. Instead of repeating the same thing over and over again in as many different media as possible, each new point of contact must have a different impact that transports us, as if we were on an elevator, through different levels of depth. Each new impact enriches those before it and the communication as a whole.

If the center of a 360 campaign is the idea, in a transmedia campaign, the audience occupies this spot.

  1. Transmedia requires true integration

A transmedia campaign demands true integration: all the parts are responsible for contributing to a single unit, a story that is only complete when experienced as a whole. Therefore, ATL, BTL, PR, WOM and all the other acronyms must cease to be airtight compartments and be coordinated in a centralized, effective manner by a master storyteller who designs the entire experience.

It’s not enough just to write a brief and divide it up among all the partners; each agency and department involved must give up part of their autonomy in favor of true on-the-spot collaboration.

  1. Not everything in transmedia is participatory

All transmedia actions require that the audience “do something”, since at the very least, they must follow a story told through different media, skipping from a magazine to a video, a radio spot or a street performance. But this does not mean that all transmedia campaigns are interactive; in other words, that they require certain actions from the audience in order to move forward.

There are some transmedia actions where the audience is a mere spectator, a passive subject to the action. An example of this is the Level 26 “digi novels”, thrillers that alternate between conventional reading on paper and on-line video clips that expand upon the main narrative.

On the other hand, other forms of transmedia are participatory. In ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), nothing happens unless the audience solves puzzles, visits certain places and carries out specific actions, either individually or as a group.

In the middle are hybrid varieties that seek to immerse the audience without reaching the levels of complexity of an ARG, such as treasure hunts (SRCH by Lady Gaga and Starbucks), or interactive films (such as Inside from Intel and Toshiba).

  1. Should all campaigns be transmedia?

Transmedia campaigns are an excellent way to capture and generate audience loyalty, but they’re hardly the only way. The idea of immersing oneself in a brand story does not appeal to everyone, which is why transmedia campaigns need a correct segmentation of the target audience.

Furthermore, transmedia does not work if the intent is merely to communicate messages, to say nothing of offers and promotions. A story is built around values, beliefs and points of view, but not based on unique selling propositions. This is why it is necessary to identify that part of its DNA that is suitable to be made into a transmedia story.

 

Chapter 2

Transmedia Storytelling: Two models with a single purpose”

Transmedia has already accumulated a good number of success stories, learning and principles. So much so that it is already possible to talk about two general ways to do transmedia: the “west coast” model and the “east coast” model. Let’s see what they’re about!

The “west coast” model: The mother ship

This is the main approach to transmedia taken by Hollywood and by the show business industry in general. In the middle is a “mother ship” (a film, a series, a record), and from there satellites are spun off that expand, recontextualize or play around with the main element.

In this way, transmedia elements 1) are subordinate to the main element, and 2) have the goal of recruiting and/or maintaining the audience for said element. While this is a fairly conservative vision, the “west coast” model allows for considerable variety, richness and depth in contents.

Moving from least to greatest richness, we can identify cases like:

Green Lantern: The film took what we might call a “basic” approach to transmedia storytelling, in the form of a promotion/contest that was independent from the film. The aim was to reach the fans of the character through an advertising insert in different DC comics, which provided a link to the website of a fake astronomical observatory from which the audience could help solve different puzzles that culminated in a spectacular image of outer space, the home of the green lanterns.

Dexter and The Walking Dead did use transmedia contents as part of the plot continuity, but in the form of flashbacks. In the first case, it told the story of past deeds involving the main character in the form of web-episodes, and in the second, it explained the origin of a secondary character introduced in one of the early scenes of the first episode.

Game of Thrones opted for an unprecedented approach to involve its audience before and after its first season. The Maester’s Path is an introduction to the world, the characters and the scenes from the series through the senses: a box with different scents, handed to a small number of bloggers, welcoming them to the world of the series and leading to a website that served as the hub for the remaining actions: a virtual tavern where fans perked up their ears to eavesdrop on others, an on-line game of surveillance where good eyesight proved essential, an iPad application to find out the weather in the different settings along the way and, finally, a gastronomic experience that physically united the fans who had reached the end of the route. In the end, 190,000 visitors interacted with some part of the project; this was in addition to 37,000 registered users and 12,000 downloads of the iPad application.

So far, we have seen examples where transmedia is an extra: an experience or a content that really doesn’t provide any significant new information, and therefore those who do not access it are not penalized.

However, other approaches go beyond this and actually do provide “exclusive” information. While the weight is still borne by the “mother ship”, this type of satellites has special narrative importance:

True Blood filled the vacuum between its first and second seasons with Blood Copy, a complex array of videos, texts and outdoor guerrilla actions where transmedia elements revolved around the series, explaining how the rest of the world faced living with vampires and narrating how these creatures were discovered by the general public. As a creative hook, HBO formed partnerships with nearly 30 commercial brands to advertise false products in real media. As a result, it was possible to find advertisements for vampires from Harley Davidson, Gillette, Ecko, and Monster.com. Taking things a step further, they created and marketed TruBlood, the artificial blood beverage that all the vampires in the series drink; reality and fiction shook hands before the astonished eyes of those who didn’t follow the series and had no idea what it was all about.

Along the same lines, Super 8 introduced transmedia material as part of the film’s plot continuity. The ARG The Revalistic expands the story of the film’s main character, telling about his father’s past and the search for a mysterious artefact that belonged to him. The Revalistic tells us about the characters’ past and adds new elements to watching the film. This not only warmed people up for the premiere, it also rewarded fans with exclusive knowledge that enabled them to enjoy the film on a more informed level than the rest of the audience.

 

The “east coast” model: natural-born transmedia

If Hollywood is on the west coast, on the east coast we have Madison Avenue, in other words, the American advertising industry. Due to the simple fact that it has products, not other stories, to sell, advertising has been a surprising driving force behind what we might refer to as a “pure” model of transmedia, that is, instead of building extras around an already established narrative, one that creates a transmedia project “from scratch”.

As a result, the “west coast” model would be like the advertising campaigns that adapt a spot to other media, while the “east coast” model would be more like campaigns that express a concept in different media.

An ARG created in 2005 to promote the launching of the new A3 model, Art of Heist from Audi is, in some ways, the father of “east coast” transmedia. The brand reports the theft of an A3 at the New York Auto Show, which served as the sound of the starter’s pistol to begin an authentic “treasure hunt” that passed through websites of false companies, advertisements in magazines, “official” messages from the company, music festivals and video game conferences. More than 500,000 people followed the story plot, doubling visits to the brand’s website and increasing the demand for information about the model by 33%.

Audi’s success encouraged other brands to enter transmedia narrative, each contributing different narrative structures, the media they used and levels of interaction with their audiences. Some of the most interesting proposals currently are:

{0>SRCH:<}100{>SRCH: Lady Gaga and Starbucks have collaborated in this action, half treasure hunt, half promotion for the signer’s new album. Using the chain stores as a platform, different QR codes led to videos by Lady Gaga with hidden clues activated by mobile phone applications, Twitter accounts and Starbucks’ own website. Each of the seven “rounds” of the promotion added new levels of complexity, alternating between the digital and the real world, providing access to content from the singer’s new album and discounts at the coffee shop. More than 300,000 visits, 23,000 registered users and mentions by CNN and USA Today would seem to back the success of this action.

{0>Intel & Toshiba- Inside:<}100{>Intel & Toshiba- Inside: Sponsored by the Intel company, Inside is a real-time transmedia narrative where the participants collaborate with one another to solve a mystery: Who is Christina Perasso, what is she doing locked in a room, and most importantly, how in heaven’s name is she going to get out of there? The heroine only has access to a Toshiba computer and an Internet connection. From there, her updates on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube make it possible to interact with the character and help free her. Unlike other similar initiatives, Inside is introduced directly as a “social film”, in other words, as a work of fiction produced in collaboration with the spectators. No official results are available, but more than 24,000 people follow the character on Facebook, 2,900 more do so on Twitter and her videos have been played 92,000 times. Even better results have been earned by the action’s platform itself: there are 56,000 fans of the Inside Experience on Facebook, 4,500 on Twitter and there have been more than 5 million viewings of its videos.

Mission Icefly: Finally, a narrative that is still a work in progress, Mission Icefly is the first transmedia effort by Wrigley’s chewing gum “5”. Advertisements in comics and magazines, backed by “subliminal flashes” in “5” spots and a guerrilla marketing promotion at the Bonnaroo festival led up to TestSubjectsNeeded.com, and later to survivalcode.com, websites that present several puzzles and challenges under the pretext of being a test to measure the “true potential” of participants. Of course, to participate, you must activate the special QR code hidden in some packages of “5”.

 

Chapter 3

Show me the Money: Quantifying the financial impact of Transmedia.

 

Any transmedia narrative is costly in terms of time, personnel and money, so it is not surprising to see how more and more debates focus on its financial impact. “It’s all very cool, but… Can money be made with a transmedia campaign?

Brian Clark, founder of GMD Studios, posted in a blog by Henry Jenkins an exhaustive analysis of the different business models that are possible in transmedia. Clark’s perspective focuses on the different ways to obtain financing for this type of project, but from him we can infer a typology that differentiates between:

The traditional method: indirect financing

The vast majority of transmedia campaigns correspond to a business model that understands transmedia as a method for promoting something else, whether it be a film or a commercial brand. That’s how transmedia storytelling was born (and over time, real experts on this topic have emerged, such as the agency Campfire and the producer42 Entertainment), and as a result, there is an indirect financial impact through media coverage and the word of mouth that it generates. We must also bear in mind that nowadays the earned media (or free media) that create and generate loyalty from “their own audiences” for products or brands they promote are just as important – or even more so – than the paid media.

Therefore, a transmedia initiative can be considered successful if:

1) It results in significant media attention that complements (or substitutes) a more conventional marketing campaign.

2) It attracts/generates the loyalty of an audience for the product being promoted.

This being the case, transmedia can also be financially self-supporting and become a separate source of business.

Alternative models: direct financing

Is it possible to generate direct income through transmedia? Yes. As a matter of fact, Star Wars, Matrix and Heroes have expanded upon their narratives through paid products such as dolls, comics and video games. In 2007, Electronic Arts offered Majestic, an ARG for $9.95 a month that attracted 15,000 users. Another example is Audi’s ARG, “The Art of The Heist”, which generated 10,000 visits to the company’s car dealerships because it told a story that referred to the product in a clear, natural manner, generating interest in finding out more about the model.

As this method of storytelling matures, challengers and deviants appear, people who have the desire to experiment with the format and substance of transmedia. In many cases, these outsiders do not have enough financial backing to sink a lot of money in the investment, so necessity has become the mother of art: self-financed transmedia.

Self-financed transmedia? Audiences have shown that they are willing to pay if the experience excites them, hooks them and provides real value. Shouldn’t this be the goal of all communication?

 

Generally speaking, we can divide these practices into three general categories:

  1. Derivative products or merchandising:

A central money-earning piece (for example, a film or a record) is combined with other transmedia pieces that also generate income (for example, a comic, a doll, a T-shirt, etc.). But unlike the conventional system where each object is independent from the whole, transmedia merchandising creates pieces that are integrated into the main narrative, providing new contents and new information.

In these cases, we sometimes talk about accidental transmedia, something that began in a conventional manner and ended up becoming transmedia. The case of Star Wars is the clearest example of this. No matter how much George Lucas would like us to believe otherwise, he had no idea that the film would be so successful or that characters like Boba Fett would go from making a fleeting appearance in an animated Christmas special to becoming a cult toy and a key character in the saga’s mythology.

In a much more premeditated manner, the Matrix saga was expanded with the sale of short films, video games and comics, which expanded upon and even directly affected the plot of the films. Heroes, Halo and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga have also spawned comics that served as prequels and parallel narratives.

  1. Fan-financed transmedia:

Fans are capable of setting up and managing complex transmedia narratives all by themselves. Proof of this is 18 Days in Egypt, a documentary about the popular revolt in Egypt created based on testimonies of all sorts sent in by the protagonists themselves, which has already gotten the attention of the New York Film Festival, Tribeca and the Sundance Institute.

Beyond crowdsourcing, independent artists are securing financing for their transmedia projects through incubators such as Kickstarter: {0>Carpe Kilimanjaro, Calling Home, 11/04/08, Socks Inc, o Balance of Powers, son iniciativas que apelan a los fans para tirar adelante.<}100{>Carpe Kilimanjaro, Calling Home, 11/04/08, Socks Inc, and Balance of Powers are all initiatives that rely on their fans to stay alive.

  1. Transmedia products:

In other words, paying for a complete transmedia experience. In 2007, Electronic Arts offered Majestic, an ARG for $9.95 a month that attracted 15,000 users. Accomplice, a theatre company?, offers dramatized interactive experiences on the streets of New York and Los Angeles. Borrowing the concept from the film The Game, Accomplice acts out a story via live telephone calls, street tours and puzzles.

Accomplice is not alone. In the United Kingdom, Punchdrunk has already been offering “immersive theatre” with shows like Tunnel 228, The Tempest, and currently Sleep No More.

More experimental in nature, Authentic in All Caps is an audio drama where an MP3 narrative guides the audience through different websites they must interact with. The project has not been launched yet, but it can be reserved for $5.95.

Along a totally different line, Antony Zuiker, creator of the series CSI, has already published two “digi novels” under the auspices of Level26. These thrillers alternate between conventional reading and on-line video clips that extend the main narrative. In an unexpected turn of events, the story line of Level26 crossed with that of CSI through its main villain, a surprise that increased the audience share of the series by 15% and may open doors to increasingly complex and fascinating crossovers.

 

But these are only some examples.

For the moment, the Producer’s Guild of America has already officially included the position of “transmedia producer”.

 

And so it continues…

 

 

 

by Pablo Muñoz (CEO of FCB Spain & VP of BCMA Spain)and          Daniel Calabuig (Creative Director of DDB Spain)

 

 

 

 

Links

Transmedia agencies

Starlight Runner: http://www.starlightrunner.com/

Campfire NYC: http://campfirenyc.com/

42 Entertainment: http://42entertainment.com/

Punchdrunk: http://www.punchdrunk.org.uk/

 

Transmedia projects

Level 26: http://www.level26.com/

Green Lantern: http://www.newtonastronomers.com/

The Revalistic: http://revalistic.com/explanation

18 Days in Egypt: http://www.18daysinegypt.com/

Accomplice: http://www.accomplicetheshow.com/

Authentic All Caps: http://www.authenticinallcaps.com/

Pottermore: http://www.pottermore.com/

 

Transmedia communication campaigns

Lady Gaga and Starbucks: http://www.frappuccino.com/srch

Intel and Toshiba: http://www.theinsideexperience.com/

Audi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_the_Heist

Artificial Intelligence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beast_%28game%29

Trident: http://www.survivalcode.com/

Nokia: http://conversations.nokia.com/2010/08/12/conspiracy-for-good-comes-to-a-close/

 

Books

Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins: http://www.amazon.com/Convergence-Culture-Where-Media-Collide/dp/0814742955/

Art of Immersion by Frank Rose: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Immersion-Generation-Remaking-Hollywood/dp/0393076016