“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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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).
6. 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.