Transmedia Storytelling

What is Transmedia Storytelling?

As you may have noticed, many stories today seem inescapable. It wasn’t that long ago that Harry, Ron and Hermione existed only if you picked up one J.K. Rowling’s massive books. Today, with eight blockbuster features under its belt, the Potter Universe is still constantly producing. Video games, fan fiction, books mentioned in the novels, even a secretive encyclopedic website, are only a small portion of the different portals in the world of Harry Potter.

This is an example of Transmedia Storytelling, a genius storytelling device that shares a story-or the universe in which the story exists-across various mediums, at different times, and on different platforms.

Deeply-rooted in the latest digital media, transmedia storytelling is an often interactive means to engage an audience, instead of simply retelling the story over separate platforms. Not to be confused with Crossmedia, it’s an ongoing process that is revealed bit by bit as each layer is unveiled, and new information is being generated by different people. The collectors become the creators.

This process is culled by the collective conscious of fans. This phenomenon occurs when, having soaked up all of the information available, the fans know more about the story’s universe than its creators themselves.

In today’s world, most users are digitally articulate; creating a large market for user generated material, pushing a ratio of 1:1 in readers to writers. This makes for an easy system for content to be retold and distributed easily over and over again. This attributed makes transmedia storytelling a widely used tool by arts marketers, particularly those in the film industry.

The Consumers are the Creators

Such avid participation means the creator/user identity is blurred; who’s content is it?The question bodes very well for advertisers. The most effective marketers get their audience to personality identify with the brand so much that it becomes part of their personalty.

Marketing films with transmedia storytelling ensures complete audience engagement, the goal being it doesn’t feel like a marketing campaign. To produce a successful campaign, film marketers are sure to hit a couple of key areas.

First, creating ubiquitous content that engages the audience and will pervade their everyday life. A multiple channel delivery system makes marketers reach audience faster and more widely varied, creating spreadable media that by nature becomes drillable media if the audience participates.

Audience participation is an incredibly effective advertising technique. User generated content is more accessible because of the relatively equipment we need to create material. Dale Dougherty, creator and founder of the world’s largest DIY festival, knows that humans are makers:

The marketers at Star Wars recently held a competition inviting fans create to their own 15 second version of a part of of Star Wars: A New Hope.  They created an entire remake of the two hour long film from only user generated material: 

Talk about brand loyalty.

Movie Marketing and Audience Engagement

Audiences don’t want to feel like they’re being marketed to. They want to feel like they are on the inside too, part of the joke.

Andrea Phillips, author of A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences across Multiple Platforms, discusses her first experience with film marketing in transmedia storytelling. When Steven Spielberg was releasing A.I Artificial Intelligence, a clever team of marketers worked on an insanely secretive creative ploy, now called “the Beast,” to market the film.

Phillips was forwarded a link to a website for the Anti Robot Militia. “We had no idea what it was, but it was really weird” says Phillips.  “These people were talking about how robots aren’t alive and have no right to exist…We were so baffled by this that we started looking around.”

After finding other clues on separate websites and even attending an anti robot live event rally, Phillips realized she was apart of a movie marketing scheme of epic proportions. What struck her was that the film was never explicitly advertised. “It was completely true to the experience the whole way through. And we loved it so deeply and so passionately — because it didn’t feel like we were being marketed to.”

People are becoming more involved now simply because it is a lot easier to do. Either way, getting your audience to participate in marketing to themselves is the ultimate brand loyalty.


Locker, Melissa. Fans Remake Star Wars, 15 seconds at a Time. Time Magazine, Jan 15th 2012.

Flew, Terry. New Media, an Introduction. Oxford University Press. 

Transmedia Storytelling, Fan Culture and the Future of Marketing. knowledge@wharton

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