Transmedia storytelling is the technique of developing a single narrative or story theme that spans many user touchpoints. The goal of this technique is to create an engaging experience for the audience. Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, shared content fits together like pieces in a puzzle.
I should point out that this technique is not the same as cross-channel marketing, which is a hip buzzword among advertising agencies these days. While they share the same core principle of developing content that spans multiple media type, the two techniques differ in specificity. A transmedia storytelling campaign must be made up of components of a narrative with characters, setting and plot, not just marketing materials. All transmedia stories are cross-channel but not all cross-channel marketing is transmedia storytelling.
We best see transmedia storytelling employed in marketing for feature films. Consider The Blair Witch Project in 1999. With faux missing posters, forum postings and a website that treated the plot of the film as a real life happening, an urban legend sprung up that the film was truly found footage with real people not actors. This ignited a huge pop culture phenomenon and $250 million in the box office from a $35k budget.
Our own agency produced transmedia storytelling campaigns before the term came to be commonly used. In 2001, we built amateur-by-design websites across a variety of domains that for Lionsgate Films around the release of their film Bully. These sites (including bullycentral.org) told stories of real incidents where victims fought back against their bullies (a theme of the film) and even engaged in a faux controversy with the filmmakers.
For MUSE Films in 2010, we set up a fictional Facebook profile for the psychopath Lou Ford, a character portrayed by Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me. We posted status updates as if Lou himself was writing them. Note: This is currently against Facebook’s terms of service to do. We will plead the fifth on whether it was at the time of the campaign.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed great campaigns for big budget films including:
- For Prometheus, audiences could find a cutting edge website for the fictional Weyland Industries and a brilliantly executed futuristic Ted Talk with its fake Founder.
- For Hunger Games trilogy, the Tumblr blog they produced for a fictional website from the dystopian universe in Capitol Couture stood out but they created many transmedia content pieces. Check out this expanded case study.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past, perhaps inspired by the success of Prometheus, a fiction website was built for Trask Industries, the anti-mutant robotics corporation in the film.
Art and Entertainment
This technique is not just for marketing campaigns, it’s also great for art and entertainment. Google’s Niantic Labs is releasing a “mobile-meets-real-world game” called Endgame: Proving Ground, written by author James Frey. It utilizes a website with ongoing story progression, coupled with a mobile game that incorporates real life geolocations. It’s augmented reality meets mobile gaming meets fiction.
And as virtual reality like Oculus Rift comes into its own and wearable tech becomes a hot commodity, the lines between fiction and reality can be manipulated in ways like never before!
So what’s the point?
Transmedia storytelling is the ultimate art of immersion. It makes fiction feel more real and enhances the fan experience. It gets people excited and participating. And it’s a great strategy to help develop a breakthrough idea and reach new creative potential.
Let’s get to making more!