A Whole New World – What is Transmedia?

The more you put in, the more you’ll get out. The age-old adage stands true even in the blurred, alternate, semi-digital space we’ll be discussing here: transmedia marketing.

Transmedia (also commonly referred to as an alternate reality marketing) defines a multimedia experience that takes the participant into a unique story or reality and provides a detailed, fictional experience using both physical and digital locations, sometimes in tandem.

Some common conduits used in promotion can include your typical viral social media and website outreach, but successful transmedia experiences work best with guerilla tactics – cleverly placed QR codes, interesting graffiti, one-off events – the list can go on.

But jargon aside, what does that really mean? It’s one thing to define the word. It’s another to fully comprehend the experience and recognize why alternate reality marketing is so powerful. To put it simply, transmedia can elevate marketing to art.

‘Gorillaz’ Marketing

One example of a founding transmedia experience comes from the world’s most iconic virtual band – Gorillaz (Blur’s Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett). Founded in 2001, the Gorillaz project is one of the best examples of a full-scale transmedia experience, having now kept the gig going for more than 20 years. From 2001 up until 2011, the group – made up of real musicians performing as cartoon avatars – was consistently blurring the lines between fiction and reality using their online, virtual studio. Visitors to the Gorillaz website were greeted by Kong Studios, a 3D point-and-click adventure that allowed fans both new and old to poke around the pop-culture hell hole that this virtual group called home. As time progressed in real life, it also did in Kong – a haunting came through, items were moved, renovations occurred, a police investigation took place – the list goes on. When the band announced its third album, Plastic Beach, it put the virtual studio up for sale at “GiganticDisusedHauntedStudiosInTheMiddleOfNowhere.com” as our virtual band (and their web game) made their way to a new home.

Flash forward to 2016, and the Humanz House Party invited listeners all over the world to check out the group’s fourth album… together. The Humanz House Party saw an app released on Android and iPhone that would display giant, floating houses around the world at specific locations. Stand near it, and you could hear the album nearly a week early!

During COVID-19, Gorillaz broadcast three live shows, featuring dual performance from the live and virtual bands.
Photo: press

This is an excellent example of the value of bringing your audience into a world with you. At that point whether you liked the album or not was secondary; the value was in bringing fans together in a unique way while generating ample word of mouth publicity – the hardest and most valuable kind to create.

Treasure Maps, Scavenger Hunts

“I Love Bees” players waiting by a payphone for their next clue.

As Humanz showed us with House Party, getting your fans out into the real world and interacting with each other is a feat to behold. If you can get them to work together, that’s even better. In 2003, the video game Halo 2’s “I Love Bees” campaign did just that, by building clues that required teamwork from across the globe to uncover. Some clues would make up the coordinates of a payphone somewhere in America, while another clue might be a billboard with a specific date and time. Pair that billboard with those coordinates, head to that payphone and wait for the phone to ring – the next clue is on the other side. Dedicated fans love initiatives like this. They create a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) for those not participating at all, and those who genuinely want to get involved and get their hands dirty are more than encouraged to jump in.

2020’s Emmy award winning Dispatches from Elsewhere followed a similar, but more grandiose, format. In the months leading up to the show’s debut, fliers with pull tabs were placed around the U.S. “Communicate Telepathically with Dolphins,” or “Learn How to Fly!” the signs would read. Pulling the tab and following the address would bring you to The Jejune Institute, a (fictional) online entity that invited you to join, but only after completing a few of their unique challenges, of course. Throughout this three-month experience, teams of ‘’players” around the world participated in a variety of tests and puzzles, which culminated with them speaking a specific phrase into their computer or phone camera and sending it off. When the show premiered, it was chock-full of references and Easter eggs that only players of the game would recognize. When the finale played, the videos participants sent in were broadcast across the world – imagine that!

So hopefully you now have a much better understanding of what constitutes a ‘’transmedia experience,” and maybe next time you have a big idea, you’ll consider one yourself!

Header photo: B-Reel

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