Putting theory into application
One of the more famous case studies that blends content from a television property and utilizes (in part) ARG extensions is the hit series, "Lost." In addition to the popular television series, the creators of "Lost" have produced a wide range of narrative extensions, including original webisodes featuring the main cast; numerous websites for fictional organizations featured in the show, such as Oceanic Airlines and the Hanso Foundation; a bestselling mystery novel that was published as a final manuscript by a character on the show; a video game that lets players explore the island and interact with the characters in an original storyline, and much more.
"Lost" is a perfect example of transmedia as marketing technique because it blurs the line between advertising and product, according to Askwith. "While most of the transmedia extensions around 'Lost' are ultimately intended to drive viewers back to the mothership of the television series, some viewers might just as easily (and legitimately) feel that the show is driving them outward, to seek out the other pieces that complete the narrative," he says. "So all of these other pieces might be advertising the show, but they're also advertising themselves -- and, increasingly, providing the ability for content creators to tell more complex stories, while generating new sources of revenue."
Coca-Cola's 2007 campaign, "The Happiness Factory", brought out the true narrative potential of what originated as a purely advertising-based vehicle. Inspired by the success of an award-winning television spot depicting the fantastic world and creatures that exist inside each Coca-Cola vending machine, Coke has expanded "The Happiness Factory" into a full-fledged transmedia franchise. This comes complete with an interactive website and "Open Happiness," a new commercial song featuring several popular music artists.
While brands like Coke are far from deficient with respect to their media budgets, it seems they may be challenged with finding more objective and resourceful solutions such as those provided by Starlight Runner Entertainment.
Jeff Gomez, Starlight Runner CEO and a pioneer in developing transmedia content for a number of Fortune 100 brands, including Coke's Happiness initiative, knows that this is no easy feat.
"There are short stories and multi-volume epics; transmedia narrative is a way of conveying messages, themes, and stories -- a tool or methodology if you will," he says. "Smaller efforts may become as ephemeral as a tale written in a magazine, while truly grand and artful ones will aspire to epic literature. We try to distinguish transmedia narrative implementation from standard terminology such as advertising campaigns, although the two can co-exist or overlap."
One example of this type of real-world integration is Dove's now famous initiative for Real Beauty. When you think about it, Dove took a very transmedia-esque approach. With the simple core insight that women of the world don't describe themselves as beautiful, Dove deconstructed our media portrayal of beauty, uprooted messaging geared towards women that has been ingrained since their childhood through multiple sources, and quite effectively, defied cultural mores and peer pressures associated with those deeper messages.
According to Gomez, this is an approach that demands a kind of brand discipline not associated with most initiatives. "[It] requires a combination of diplomacy and a fierce loyalty to the tenets of the IP or brand itself above all else," he says. "Studios, agencies, and publishers that are not doing this are finding themselves trailing the frontrunners."
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