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Story | Thursday, 09th July 2015

What on Earth is TransMedia Storytelling

Written by Thomas Camilleri

First off, this isn’t going to be about LGBTI – ain’t that type of Trans, hunnybunches.


Ever since the hydra of social media reared its head way back in the 90s (yes indeed – many credit classmates.com with being one of the first fully-fledged social media websites which launched in 1995), scores more have sprung up to replace every head that gets chopped off. With the proliferation of so many different social media channels, the opportunities for influencing the online community was growing. Just to make things a bit more challenging, smartphones happened. Then tablets. This won’t stop. This meant that not only were there different channels for communication, but these were spread over different platforms.

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This brought about CrossMedia Marketing which is essentially the spread of content over different platforms. Ok, so that’s great – I have an advert and I resize it for mobile, web, TV and print and stick shitloads of money behind it and blow it into everyone’s faces. That’s all well and good for some products and services but the bigger and more ambitious marketing campaigns got, the more they sought to exploit this uncharted territory, particularly with an entire generation who have grown alongside the Web.

They know that they wield a power that previous generations did not. A single tweet or post could bring about more chatter than a million-euro campaign and boy do they know it. This is why brands need to be honest, you can’t outsmart your audience anymore.

Get to the subject, already!

This brings us to TransMedia. It’s been around as a term for a few years now, but like the hydra of Social Media it grows and evolves constantly with every new platform or channel that becomes the latest trend.

TransMedia isn’t as popular or as used as it should be because it isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. Then again, nothing worth being proud of is. TransMedia is so much more intricate than CrossMedia because the content is curated separately for each channel and platform and the public is also given the means and opportunity to create their own content. Gianluca Fiorelli from stateofdigital.com names these two domains Canon and Fandom. Fandom consists of User-Generated Content which is where marketers get sweaty palms and dry throats. We sit here, writing copy and designing what we’ll be showing the public. Then the public takes over, and the control is no longer ours. In an ideal world, you have the public doing your job better than you ever can, spreading the word and growing loyalty organically the way it will stick the fastest. Then again it could go horribly wrong, but this is where you can never be certain. You’re pushing your fledglings out of the nest. You’ve done your best but it’s now out of your hands.

The old adage says that no publicity is bad publicity and Mr Wilde famously declared that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. I’m very much of that opinion myself – the brand’s out there and being talked about which is grand. In 2012, Waitrose’s ad agency launched their #WaitroseReasons campaign inviting people to tweet why they love shopping at Waitrose. The campaign was hijacked beautifully with tweets lampooning the supermarket’s elitist standing. Some saw this as a disaster, others thought it was unwittingly genius.

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There are always two sides to a coin however and bad publicity can definitely harm a brand – check out SeaWorld‘s ongoing misfortunes or Donald Trump’s spectacular double-whammy which is damaging both his own brand and his presidential hopes.

But what are you putting out there? How are you getting the public to engage constructively with your brand?

What’s the story?

Humans love stories because humans are, well, human. Most people will define humans as such because of their soul. This is, of course, entirely debatable as a concept but there is something there, something intangible which tapping into is the holy grail to anyone who is trying to sell you something.

One of the best films of late which really got under my skin is the Christopher Nolan masterpiece Inception. For the four of you who haven’t seen it, the film explores sub-conscious idea-planting. By exploring the mind of a host while both they and the explorer are asleep, the explorer can plant an idea which, if placed subtly enough, will appear to be self-cultivated by the host, thus making it infinitely stronger and persistent.

The premise is a fantastical one but is tied very closely to the ethos of a thorough and enduring marketing campaign. We all experience affinity to brands, and more often than not, we can’t discern the origination of that affinity. This is when irrational purchases and loyalty enter the fray, marking a clear win for those companies and creatives who had put their heads together with the aim of selling more of their stuff.

I’d like to talk about another film I like – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This film’s launch campaign by Ignition Creative was so staggeringly vast, it is truly mind-boggling. As part of their pre-release push they created an entire set of adverts and online content which were unrelated to the film as fiction but instead gave viewers a glimpse of what residents of the infamous District 1 might see daily. Below is an example of an advert which would lead you to their tumblr page which was crammed full of similar content. There were even dresses created as part of a capsule collection inspired by the film costume’s designs which could be purchased on Net-A-Porter. This bridged the gap between fiction and reality beautifully – you could actually feel like a District 1 fashionista and have the actual garments delivered to your door.

transmedia storytelling

Is it just Hollywood?
There’s no doubt that the budgets and content of Hollywood films lend themselves well to inspiring TransMedia storytelling but this isn’t where the story ends.

I’m jumping back a few years to 2010 but that year we saw one of the most talked-about and engaging campaigns – and the product wasn’t even all that! I’m talking about Old Spice and their Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign. Old Spice stinks, I mean I’m sure it cleans, but as hot as Isiah Mustafa might be, I ain’t interested if that’s what he smells like. Regardless of this, the campaign went nuts. What was even more impressive was their followup – the Response Campaign. Encouraging users over Facebook, Twitter and other sites to put questions to the Old Spice man, the team then recorded 186 personal answer videos for their channel which collectively clocked up 40 million views in the first week. The results were incredible, scroll down to the bottom of the DANDAD Case study for the figures.

Where next?

The strength of newer platforms is only growing. Such is the wane of the desktop computer that some have chosen to go the whole hog and kill their website completely. Indian fashion retail giant Myntra went app-only from May. This is already beginning to dictate which format content is mainly created in. There is currently a fierce debate raging on whether video ads should be created in landscape or portrait orientation. I know I really don’t like turning my cumbersome iPhone 6 around to see an ad so it’s easy to see why this shift is happening, especially when my youthful 29 years mean I’m about 147 in internet years.

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So what’s your take on TransMedia now that you know what it is? Do you love it or hate it?

Next week we’ll be exploring the influence of emotion when it comes to digital marketing – join the discussion on our Facebook Group and let us know which your favourite tear jerking ads are, and whether they’ve been effective. 

Thomas Camilleri

a little more about

Thomas Camilleri,

Thomas is a child of the 80s and was born in The Netherlands but is definitely not tall, blonde or blue eyed. After a relatively normal academic upbringing, he ditched it all to pursue acting in London and did that for a very fun decade. Following that, he moved into PR and marketing in the UK and in Malta. Throughout his life, his love of Malta and passion for writing have been a constant and he's very happy to be in a place where he can wed them to his creative hunger and indulge in a lot of eating (a lot lot).