Transmedia and the War For Consumer Attention

ImageAre you familiar with the term, “transmedia”? I hadn’t heard the term before, but when I saw that Andrea Philips (an award-winning transmedia pioneer, as well as gamer and writer) was in town to speak on the subject, I quickly leapt at the chance to learn more.  Turns out, transmedia gives name to a growing marketing technique many of us have likely seen and admired for its ingenuity.

According to Phillips, transmedia is one story told over multiple mediums where each medium contributes a unique contribution to the whole.  So, one feature film shown in theaters, previewed on the movie’s website and shared on the movie’s Facebook and YouTube channel would not qualify. It would be considered a smart way to merchandize across networks, reaching a higher number of viewers, but not so much transmedia.

Instead, consider a movie like The Dark Knight. Prior to the film’s release, a game was released that asked fans to steal a bus for the Joker. The fans completed the mission, happy to participate. They were rewarded early on in the feature film when the Joker used that stolen bus to wreak havoc on Gotham.

Non-gamers likely enjoyed that scene as well (it was one of the film’s more memorable sequences), but those that had helped steal the bus now felt part of something larger. They had an intimate, secret knowledge of the story. They were insiders, and very likely would become even more ardent ambassadors of the Dark Knight franchise (even if their connection was pre-arranged).

This type of marketing isn’t necessarily cutting edge (Phillip’s gave the initial example of transmedia marketing in the movie A.I released in 2001) – but it’s certainly becoming more prevalent and more necessary. Not only are more consumers using multiple devices, they’re often using them at the same time – actively asking for two different types of experiences; of the SuperBowl’s 111M viewers, 60% were estimated to have watched on two screens according to Technorati.

As Philips astutely pointed out, attention is the currency of the future. While transmedia can help brands develop richer connections to fans, it also provides multiple access points for new fans. Consider Batman again – how many of the gamers who saw Dark Knight would have seen it had they not become a participant in the story? Certainly, not as many as who ended up seeing the film – and recommending it to friends.

As Phillips was wrapping up her presentation, she made an off-hand comment that truly cemented the obviousness of this next chapter in digital marketing. On an average Monday night, in one five-minute period, we might respond to texts about meeting a friend for a drink, while watching TV, while emailing a colleague about an upcoming deadline. Our lives, our personal slivers of story are already transmedia. The brands that truly consider the importance of this new multi-connected world sooner, rather than later, are going to be at a clear advantage.

Admittedly, I too, stand to gain from transmedia – I see it as the opening a new chapter of creativity for my own work as a digital marketer. I fell in love with stories before I was tall enough to reach the light switch – wanting madly to create — but as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more “reasonable” (e.g. reliable monthly salary = safer than writing fiction).

Since graduating college, I’ve tried my hand at becoming a journalist, then a communications associate, and even a blogger. I discovered digital marketing – happy to finally have some creativity back in my life. But transmedia – that’s an explosion of creativity. And it’s coming. Soon. To a theater, mobile device, billboard and laptop near you.

Andrea Phillip’s new book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, will be published by McGraw-Hill in June 2012.


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