“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:
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.
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”.