Storytelling master and Professor Henry Jenkins says, “transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. So, for example, in The Matrix franchise, key bits of information are conveyed through three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games. There is no one single source or ur-text where one can turn to gain all of the information needed to comprehend the Matrix universe.”
Transmedia has many implications for brands too, but it is not simply telling the same story in different media. Just because a customer can watch a commercial on YouTube and broadcast television does not mean the brand is engaging in transmedia storytelling. In that example, the media are in opposition with each other: On which screen do you want to watch? To tell a story with transmedia, the media need to be complimentary and working together.
In 2014, Airbnb created a memorable storytelling moment on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Wall and Chain” was animated film to bring the story of ‘how and why people want to connect’ to life. At the same, the brand conducted an economic impact study on Berlin to showcase how their customers (who travel and stay in Berlin) support the local economy and make a positive contribution to the city. And they communicated all of this through an immersive digital experience.
Going a step further, Airbnb supplemented with long-form articles, social media, behind-the-scenes videos showcasing the real family behind the animated film, and hosting a unification event “that paid homage to the roots of Berlin history and culture through the feature of a Berlin Wall build out.” The multi-platform campaign in total earned more than 8 million views across social and digital with 130 press hits in 15 countries.
What makes this a great example is the brand takes advantage of multiple platforms that allow the core story to be experienced in a variety of different ways. Pivoting around the central narrative of ‘how and why people want to connect’ we are able to gain new perspectives about the characters in the story and the lives and communities they impact. What a marvelous way for the brand to create empathy.
Since transmedia has roots in education (Marsha Kinder first coined the term transmedia in her 1991 book about children’s media, Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games (Univ. of California Pr.), it’s no surprise that School Library Journal’s Peter Gutierrez, offers some questions to help jump start transmedia thinking:
- Where does the story start? Where (and how) is it continued?
- Does it need to start in a single place? Or is it possible to retell an opening “chapter” from a different perspective, or go back and add a prequel?
- How do people know which medium comes next as the story unfolds? Or does the story need to be told in a linear sequence? Can people dip into it at different points of their own choosing?
- Can you expand on backstories, or tangential histories? What about adding incidents that fill in gaps in the existing narrative?
- How are similar bits of information or story elements expressed in different media?
- Why is a certain medium used to convey a certain section of the story? What can one medium accomplish that another can’t?
- How do all media components complement one another and provide a richer audience experience?
- How does the overall experience immerse the audience in a story?
As the Airbnb example demonstrates, there’s significant potential for brands to make a lasting impact with transmedia and multi-platform storytelling. Is your brand using transmedia storytelling today?
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