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The Age Of Transmedia: How Brands Can Tell Better Stories

  |  July 30, 2012   |  Comments   |  

Our industry is full of buzzwords and transmedia is one that has become harder to ignore.

Since the dawn of time, people have craved stories; we live for them - whether they are just fables or for teaching lessons about life, culture, and history, they help us make sense of our place in this world. They bring richness, excitement, and connections while comforting and educating us.

For those stories that touch our heart, we embrace them and keep them with us. That's why storytelling has always played an integral role in advertising. Brands that manage to communicate through relevant and emotional human narratives are able to connect deeply with consumers.

Storytelling has evolved throughout time. In the old days, stories were told around a fire, in which the audience could interject their own conversations and shape the narratives being told. Then came film and television, a one-way medium, which excluded the audience from the conversation. However, this has gone full circle and technology has brought this power back to consumers.

The proliferation of the second screen such as smartphones and tablets provides audiences with an additional device as an entry point for deeper engagement and a heightened experience. This has brought along a convergence between the old and new way of telling stories with new methods of distributing content.

Enter Transmedia Storytelling

Our industry is full of buzzwords and transmedia is one that has become harder to ignore.

Transmedia is loosely defined as the practice of arching story worlds over various platforms, with each thread tailored to the platform it lives in. It extends elements of a primary storyline across multiple spaces to create an interactive, multi-layered fiction greater than the sum of its parts. It is important to note that transmedia is not about repurposing content from TV to another platform or producing a spin-off into something else. It is about appropriately and organically telling a story across all platforms where elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media spaces, each making their own unique contribution to the whole story.

It is not something new and TV series and films such as Heroes and The Matrix are all great examples of transmedia storytelling. There's also the recent Pottermore used by J.K. Rowling to continue the Harry Potter story indefinitely after the movie franchise has ended.

Transmedia allows brands a larger canvas in which to tell their story by leveraging the best features in each platform to enhance every piece of the experience; giving diversity and richness to the content and characters and helping users get the most out of a great story.

Most transmedia stories are built around a brand community that rallies fans around the brand and product story, activating the audience and creating deeper engagement through participation and co-creation.

A classic example involves the use of alternate reality games such as Audi's Art Of The Heist, which was used to launch the new Audi A3 in the U.S. One recent and currently active brand example is Daybreak by AT&T, an interactive drama explored through five online films, two websites, and a smartphone app that is used to promote AT&T technology.

Transmedia storytelling has also found a niche in Hollywood as a means to launch and engage audiences after the successful use of it in The Dark Knight. In the recent movie Prometheus, there was even a spin-off TED talk and website for the protagonist organization  for users to explore in a back storyline.

Developing Transmedia Campaigns

I think there's a slight misnomer that transmedia campaigns have to be complex and expensive or that it is more applicable in the realm of film and TV. Transmedia storytelling is highly scalable and brands can easily integrate this into their campaigns. Here are some things to think about:

1. Focus on telling a good story

  • Make sure it is engaging and interactive and allows for audience participation in helping to shape the story.
  • Make sure every piece of content can be easily shared.

2. Think about how you want to distribute the story

  • Look at the brand's owned, earned, shared, and paid media.
  • Based on the media type and time form, think about how you want each platform to participate.
  • For example, the use of blogs to get a more in-depth exploration of the character's thoughts or a backstory.
  • Twitter allows for real-time updates on what's going on right now and can be used to report an event, provide reactions, stream conversations between characters, etc.
  • Facebook can act as the central hub and be a permanent record for content and conversations. Other pieces of content can also be distributed on YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Here's a framework for an online distributed story that can help you plot this out.

3. Make each piece and narrative easy to find relative to the main plot and anchor story

  • Ensure there is a balance of the linear and non-linear experience so that the audience does not get lost or confused.
  • Here's a Project Guide that can help you do that.
  • For brands that want to look at creating an alternate reality game as part of the story, here's a sample game scenario showing how it can be done.

Buzzword or not, only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, as the means of telling stories evolve, so do the audiences. Now, instead of sitting back to watch and consume, they demand participation. And interactive gaming, social, and mobile/location platforms have given brands the ability to dive deeper and fully immerse audiences.

Technology man image via Shutterstock.


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Vincent Teo

Vincent is the co-founder and partner at C//IQUE, a product development studio and incubator that focuses on developing digital products and services that disrupt traditional business models and empower consumers. He has over a decade of experience both on the client and agency side, most recently as a digital planning director at BBDO/Proximity and lead digital strategist at Publicis. Prior to that, he started-up and managed the Hong Kong office of Splash Interactive Group and built the online business at Citibank and HSBC. Connect with him on Twitter @intersphere.

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