James Cooper is a strategist on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group.
As part of Social Media Week Toronto last month, SMG hosted Social Media Group Spark, during which five colleagues and I were each given 5 minutes to inspire our audience on a social media topic of our choice.
I took the opportunity to talk about the emerging trend of “transmedia storytelling”.
What is transmedia storytelling?
Also known as “multiplatform storytelling”, it’s storytelling across multiple platforms and formats using digital technologies. It’s not to be confused with “multimedia”, which is content presented in a combination of different media forms. Transmedia storytelling focuses on the narrative and the experience. Whereas, multimedia, puts emphasis on the technology and the content.
The Matrix franchise is a classic example of transmedia storytelling. It’s fictional storyworld is constructed across films, animation, video games, a massively multi-player online role playing game (MMPORG), a graphic novel and a series of comics. Each platform enriches and adds nuances to the over arching storyline.
So what? Why does transmedia storytelling matter?
It matters because, as humans, we love stories. We love to tell stories. We love to hear stories. We love the experience that is created by a really great story. Marketers have an opportunity to immerse their audience in a brand experience that follows a story and engages the audience across multiple media platforms.
I recently encountered a great example of transmedia stortelling on History Television. Battle Castle, a new show which premieres on March 15, “brings to life mighty medieval fortifications and the sieges they resist: clashes that defy the limits of military technology and turn empires to dust.”
The Battle Castle “action documentary” — which is a collaboration between New York-based Starlight Runner and two Canadian companies, Parallax Film Productions and Agentic Communications — is enriched across web games, virtual castle tours, social media channels, and 3D-ready content both online and for broadcast TV. Each of these platforms creates a unique entry point into the medieval world that is Battle Castle.
Unlike billion-dollar transmedia franchises, such as The Matrix, Harry Potter and Star Wars, which create fictional universes, Battle Castle’s documentary format is largely based on historically accurate information. I think this sets an example for other transmedia storytellers who wish to explore the realm of non-fiction.
Now what? What should marketers do with transmedia storytelling?
We’re living in an age of blurring lines between media. As this happens, it’s becoming less a question of whether or not marketers should consider using transmedia storytelling and more a question of when they should act on it.
As we’ve seen, there are many examples of transmedia’s natural fit in the entertainment industry. There are also many examples of transmedia use in the extended B2C market, such as Coke’s Happiness Factory, Mattel’s “Should Barbie take Ken back?” and Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World”. But does transmedia work in B2B?
I think it’s safe to assume that most B2B marketers would consider the thought of creating a fictional storyworld around their brand — full of faeries and other mystical beings — to be brand suicide. But, if there’s a lesson to be learned from Battle Castle, it’s that transmedia is not strictly for fictional storytelling. In some B2B industries, marketers may have an exciting opportunity to approach transmedia storytelling as documentarians.
What do you think? Does transmedia storytelling have the potential to become the status quo? Does it apply to B2B or is it only suitable for B2C marketing?
Watch the full video of my talk: