Transmedia Storytelling Weaves Powerful Brand Connections
by Reyne Rice, Toy Trend Expert, Toy Industry Association
Smart manufacturers, entertainment studios, retailers and licensed
property owners are increasingly tapping digital media to develop their
brand presence with consumers. By expanding their cross-media platform
strategies with multiple communication touchpoints, marketers are
reaching consumers where they already are, and engaging with them with
Dubbed "transmedia storytelling", this option (in theory) is designed
to leverage the unique benefits of each platform to activate deeper
brand experiences that entertain and invite participation and engagement
from its users. With mobile apps, the experience may be the lighter
version, whereas immersion through a blockbuster summer movie or ongoing
episodic TV or entertainment vehicle will provide a longer lasting
connection. Physical lifestyle-branded and licensed products that
connect with the consumer will encourage a deeper, emotional attachment
and tactile bond with the brand or lifestyle property.
In his book Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins defines transmedia as
storytelling that "immerses an audience in a story's universe through a
number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and
coordinated experience of a complex story."
In the toy and game industry, an example of phenomenal success is
Twilight, which wove its initial story of "teenage angst, with a twist"
through a successful series of tween and teen-driven books and
blockbuster movies, through Hot
Topic at retail for apparel and accessories, and now through
toys and games, home décor and more.
Other recent examples include:
1. With Disney's Toy Story property, the re-mastered Toy Story 1 and
Toy Story 2 were staged to create excitement and a new 3D experience for
viewers, building to anticipation for the newest movie, which launched
with over $100 million in box office sales during its first summer
The newly released Toy Story 2 Read-Along iPad app by Disney
Interactive Studios uses a 23 page/screen adaptation of the storyline
with tap-to-play sound effects and character voices. It adds two games,
two songs, three coloring activities and the ability to record personal
voice narration to the scrolling set of pages. This creates a richer
experience with the brand and the characters.
In addition to new Toy Story 3 products launched in June 2010 by
master toy licensees Thinkway and Mattel, there have been classic
character re-introductions of the iconic Buzz and Woody, Mr Potato Head,
Slinky Dog, Green Army Men, Rex the Dinosaur and the little green aliens
by multiple complementary toy and game licensees such as Hasbro, Jakks
Pacific, Lego, TechnoSource and others. In this carefully orchestrated
launch, multiple licensed products have been staged across a broad array
of categories and across retail channels of distribution.
2. Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda World is a web-based example of
transmedia storytelling where access to the interactive online
destination extends the storyline from the movie franchise. Even though
parents control levels of chat and access, the site's new collaborative
play features allow kids to engage in tag or a treasure hunt, play a
Kung-Fu game, increase their Chi levels and move up a belt rank, or use
a new heat-sensing tool to locate friends on the site. These activities
all add layers to the original movie storyline in a cohesive way.
3. Mattel has selected a different path for the launch of their new
Monster High franchise. They are simultaneously launching at mass and
specialty retailers a consumer products line with stylish fashion dolls,
plush, electronics, roleplay and novelty toys, a fashion apparel and
accessories line at Justice stores, a Halloween costume range
exclusively at Party City, and a series of books written by the popular
tween and teen novelist, Lisi Harrison (The Clique) at Borders. Music
options will include two licensed songs from Allison Iraheta (of
American Idol fame) and a Monster High theme song that will be leveraged
across all marketing touchpoints. MonsterHigh.com launches globally with
scary games, activities and weekly animated webisodes. Additional online
presence at popular sites such as StarDoll, PopTropica and on social
media networks extends reach and generates buzz among older girls, where
they are currently spending their time. Following the launch in other
retail channels, Monster High will head to the big screen with a live
action musical in partnership with Universal Pictures.
4. As we move toward the 10-10-10 launch of The Hub – the
Discovery Communications-Hasbro joint venture – many industry
veterans are carefully watching how the new programming model will drive
business for their own brands … as well as those of other
entertainment partners that will be featured on the Hub programming.
This is another model where new ground is being broken. Many of Hasbro's
classic and nostalgic brands – from GI Joe to Transformers and
from Chuck and Friends (Tonka) to My Little Pony and Pound Puppies
– will be featured in entertainment series. These brands already
exhibit strong lifestyle appeal, with many of them topping over 100
worldwide licensing partners representing a diverse grouping of
lifestyle brand categories for both children and adult collectors.
These examples are just a few that illustrate the potential for brand
integration, relevant placements and sponsorships that can be created
with transmedia implementations.
Future Developments in Transmedia Storytelling
What will the coming months bring? Certainly there will be new uses
for interactive media, social networking, music, and live experiences.
Richer storytelling options will evolve as developers get more familiar
with emerging and new technologies, formats and platforms. Expect to see
greater use of multi-player games and puzzles on mobile devices, and
wider use of multi-touch interactions … especially for the larger
screen format iPad apps and at in-store kiosks and entertainment events.
Look for GPS locator interfaces (such as Treasure Hunts and fan
gatherings in parks, malls and zoos) and accelerometer technologies that
will engage consumers in ways that connect uniquely to each brand.
Expect to find wireless and Wi-Fi access links to additional features
that can also enhance the inherent play value. Examples include a
Wikipedia look-up feature in the new Star Walk astronomy App launched in
April 2010 for the iPhone and in May 2010 for the iPad, or the change in
voice on a Tom-Tom GPS device, where the distinctive Star Wars voices of
Darth Vader, C-3PO, Yoda and Hans Solo can guide travelers on their
The best intersection of transmedia storytelling is when multiple
channels are not just considered, but thoughtfully planned out and
integrated in ways that will delight the viewer where he/she is already
spending time. This is where brands can create true cross-media
experiences that add value across the storyline and engage and entertain
consumers as they choose their favorite media options.