A whole new story world

Transmedia storytelling is entering the mainstream. So what does it mean for marketing? The movies reveal all...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes


It’s amazing where Facebook can take you. About a year ago, a link one of my friends posted got me listening to a podcast about transmedia storytelling. I googled and my eyes were opened.

A sector in entertainment that has been developing at pace recently but has been around for over decade, transmedia storytelling capitalises on the abundance of platforms from which consumers can now be reached, shifting from the traditional linear story, to a more complex, multi-dimensional ‘story world.’

These characters and ‘story worlds’ can exist and develop outside of their initial timeline, and allow consumers to enjoy entertainment on a number of levels. For example, rather than simply watching a movie, viewers can interact with characters on websites, experience the world in games, follow lead protagonists on Twitter, as well as participate in a vast array of other opportunities on various platforms.

Buzz for transmedia has increased steadily over the past 18 months, and the role of the “transmedia producer” has hit the entertainment stage. That role was formally recognized by the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) last April following the formation of the Transmedia Artists Guild (a nonprofit organisation aiming to provide a network and base for transmedia artists). Although still dominated by the US, new transmedia production companies are sprouting up all over, and universities are holding classes and conferences on the subject. J Walter Thompson, the largest advertising agency in America, included “transmedia producers” in its list of “100 Things to Watch in 2011”.

One of the things that has always fascinated me is the different ways that readers connect to a story, the different characters that resonate and the scenes that stick. Transmedia is appealing because you can broaden the offer of a story out and take it, not just beyond the page, but beyond the confines of the central narrative, growing branches that split away from and weave back in to the linear story so that all sorts of different people can engage, in all sorts of ways.

George Lucas is often cited as one of the first transmedia storytellers, without even knowing it. Think what you like about Star Wars but the way Lucas created all sorts of different ‘transmedia’ outlets for the story that could then draw readers and players in to the core narrative through different routes was inspired. Whether it was a little girl playing with an Ewok toy, a little boy reading the Star Wars comic, or a grown man buying the game, consumers could interact with the transmedia story on a different platform before finding their way to the films themselves. Or not. If they didn’t want to. The great thing about truly brilliant transmedia is that you can enjoy your story interaction in its own right without ever discovering the rest of the story, but if you do, it takes things to a whole new level.

The way transmedia storytelling can tap in to our desire to discover and our natural curiosity is an aspect of the technique that has had brands and franchises spinning with excitement over the last decade as they unleash their transmedia story concepts on consumers with great success. The best example I read about was the release of the Dark Knight in 2008. The story actually started in May 2007 for real fans, who discovered and At Comic Con a couple of months later, attendees were handed out $1 bills pointing them to, which led them on a scavenger hunt across almost 50 sites on the web, including the Gotham Times and the Joker’s equivalent, the Ha Ha Ha Times, finally leading them to a place where they found a cake with a cellphone baked in, which would give them directions to a special preview of the first seven minutes. Total genius. [Since writing this the Prometheus transmedia storytelling campaign has unrolled before our eyes. Another mind-boggling story world that it has been impossible to ignore!]

In trawling the internet for more examples, more information and more knowledge I came across a host of websites, podcasts and a handful of books, which I now own and am reading. When I am buried deep in the transmedia storytelling world it’s exciting. I’m learning that writing, which I thought I knew well, has a whole new aspect to it, like an easter egg bonus that I can now play with, learn about and, if I am lucky, master.

I revel in the fact there’s a completely different approach to storytelling in my life, an approach I fell across by chance, that curiosity led me to explore and try out for myself.

The spirit of discovery is inherent within this medium itself. I can’t wait to give it a go.



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