In 1999, I attempted to launch a content production venture called Transmedia Productions. Its vision was to develop and market narratives, which would span various media (yes even internet!). It also aimed to somehow engage audiences in “co”-telling the story.
Even when being kind to myself I can only describe the project as an outright disaster. My artistically inclined friends thought the idea to be "kinda cool". But anyone "with money" wouldn't touch it with a stick.
In hindsight, the money guys were probably right. Only today, transmedia is starting to get some traction, and even then only among a small group of aficionado. The majority of mainstream media are still locked into their single-medium paradigm. Business models, contracts and personal interests are bound to keep it that way for a little while.
Still, at the risk of being considered avant-garde, I maintain that brands which want to navigate the multi-channel communication reality, must embrace a transmedia way of storytelling.
To help me make my point, I decided to connect to Twitter-friend and like-minded spirit Andrea Phillips in New York. As a transmedia writer, game designer and author, she's been involved in some really cool projects like The Maester's Path, America 2049 and Perplex City.
She also just published A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling which is a great way to become incredibly well-read on the topic in 3 hours (if you want a free sample chapter click here).
Her challenge - in three questions - is to convince you why you and your brand (or agency) should get serious about transmedia.
As most of the marketing population didn't yet get the transmedia memo, could you describe in a few words what the field is about?
The three-word answer is "intertextuality across platforms." What that means is using different media together in the interests of telling a single, cohesive story, where each piece is made better by the contributions of each other piece. You can use each piece to add layers of meaning to the others, and provide deeper, richer narratives than would fit in only one medium.
That's a really abstract academic answer, though, and doesn't get to the heart of WHY it's so exciting. Transmedia storytelling is all about building in extra payoffs -- giving a joke an extra punch line with a viral video, like How I Met Your Mother Does. Or giving the audience the feeling that they're a part of the story, like The Dark Knight's Why So Serious campaign did. Giving the audience a character to interact with and foster a real human relationship with, like the Old Spice Guy. When you use transmedia tools to tell a story, it can turn into an amazing, social, emotional experience that you simply can't replicate with one piece of flat media.
Now many marketers and brands I know say they're already "transmedia" storytellers. After all, they tell stories across multiple media. So what's the big deal?
The marketer's idea of a story is not everyone else's idea of a story. Marketers think of story in terms of emotional imagery more than of plot, character, pacing. And it's extraordinarily rare for a consumer to get more out of watching two ads than they would out of watching only one ad in the same campaign. There's not a lot of greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts design in marketing. Now, marketers do have some amazing skills at evoking emotion, and that's going to get more and more valuable… but they're also going to need to become more familiar with the basics of classic storytelling, as well.
We're living in an age of convergence and disruption, and one of the things being heavily disrupted is the passive role of the consumer to receive an ad message. It's dead easy to simply ignore, block, filter ads at this point. So in order to thrive, advertisers have to go into the culture-making business -- making original content that is so compelling that audiences seek it out.
One way to do that is overt storytelling -- something far beyond a bunch of beautiful people sizing each other up around a pool to sell alcohol. There's no narrative tension there. But there is some flat-out amazing storytelling in advertising already. There's a powerful Nike ad going around right now, basically about a fat kid running, and it's incredibly inspiring. That's the right direction. Building on an emotional dynamic to tell a story that makes people feel and seek out more, that's what transmedia is all about.
So if I were a marketing or advertising executive wanting to explore "real" transmedia storytelling for my brand, where would I start? What should I do? What should I avoid?
The most basic step is to look at everything you're making and ask yourself, 'Why would people want to spend their time looking at this?' If you're counting on a captive audience at this point, you're doing it wrong. And think about adding additional pieces to your campaigns one by one, to make them more layered, or more interactive, or more emotional. Think about how to make someone's experience with you better and better.
The biggest mistake I see these days, though, is some poor soul thinks, 'transmedia is so hot right now, so I need a Twitter and a microsite and an app.' So they go out and make all of these pieces… but none of them are related, or add anything to a core experience. At the end of the day, each piece you create has to add value to the story for your audience. Every piece has a function. If you're adding media on and you don't know why, that's a red flag that you're on the wrong track, and you should probably step back and rethink your strategy.