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Exploring transmedia campaigns

Transmedia campaigns are marketing campaigns that employ something called Transmedia Storytelling.

The term basically refers to a narrative that occurs across many media forms, each of which contributes significantly to how the viewer perceives and processes the narrative.

This may seem old hat to veteran marketers; the use of storytelling in marketing is nothing new, and convergence between print, tv, radio, and billboards has been happening for decades. The game-changing element in the current use of the term should be fairly obvious, however…

With the hyper-connective and highly personal nature of the internet in 2010, the potential impact of convergence through transmedia is now greater and more tangible than it ever has been before.

Everyone has been making loud, excitable noises about the potential for social media in marketing for quite some time. The truth is that even where social media is being successfully integrated into campaigns, its use as a marketing tool is a long way from being fully realized. Most campaigns that try to utilize social media view it more as a ‘value-add’ proposition than a defining aspect of a campaign; something that’s almost tacked on as an afterthought.

Because the marketing world is yet to fully embrace and understand social media, the few forward-looking agencies that are investigating transmedia as a marketing strategy are only just beginning to test the waters themselves. In a recent interview with Jawbone.tv, Jeff Gomez (president and CEO of transmedia specialists Starlight Runner Entertainment), used the programming term ‘top-down’ to shed light on how transmedia campaigns are being executed currently.

Most campaigns have tended towards a ‘top-down approach. This means that the existing creative and campaign elements are broken down into sub-categories according to their potential for use in social media. In other words, they started with the traditional advertising that they already had and tried to fit aspects of it into online media.

This approach comes as no surprise, as it involves less risk for the agency, but it underestimates the potential of transmedia as a story-telling mechanism. A ‘bottom-up’ approach will require people to tell marketing narratives through enormously potential-rich media like YouTube, instead of simply using them to draw the audience’s attention elsewhere, to more traditional forms of advertising.

Taking a bottom-up approach would require the agency to start with the media forms that they want to incorporate, and build the campaign upwards from these. This means that potential Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube are written into the campaign as it evolves, greatly maximizing its impact across the media once it has launched.

A good example of an attempt at a bottom-up approach to trans-media was the campaign for Toohey’s cider, 5 Seeds. The campaign pointedly targeted the online social media audience, creating a video-based, choose-your-own-adventure channel on YouTube and Facebook. The videos tied in nicely with TV ads and mysterious deliveries made to key media outlets. While the outcome of such a striking campaign was somewhat disappointing (cider!?), the campaign itself was taking an admirably progressive approach to transmedia marketing.

Another that isn’t quite as successful in its implementation is the new Trading Post advertisement. From late 2009, unbranded advertisements appeared in major cities, depicting a remarkably curious image of a goat with a frog on its head. In mid-January, video advertisements began to appear on YouTube, Facebook, and broadcast television. They followed the narrative of generic everyman Bob discovering the duo who speak when he shows them the Trading Post website. The ads then document his endeavors to share the wonder with his family and vet who assume he needs professional help, as the animals only talk in his presence.

While the goofy imagery certainly stays with you, this campaign is a fine example of a top-down approach. Although it incorporates online and outdoor, as well as mobile, radio, and cinema, it uses these media to draw attention to Bob’s unfortunate narrative, rather than using them to further it. Many people were disappointed with the outcome of the initial mysterious images, and this is why. Although the campaign successfully engaged audiences using transmedia, once attention was captured, it dashed expectations of a potential narrative by simply using the media to draw attention to the three video ads. Though the Bob narrative may develop in the future, it currently stands as a fine example of why a cursory top-down approach to transmedia is a waste of potential.

Transmedia is possibly most suited to films. The deeper the narrative, the greater the appeal, as campaigns for The Dark Knight and even top-down efforts like the one for HBO series True Blood demonstrated. But this isn’t to say that a comprehensive, bottom-up approach won’t benefit smaller marketing campaigns. In fact, a small amount of deep transmedia narrative is all that’s needed to get immeasurably better results from social media. And there’s nothing holding anyone back from achieving this. #

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