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Can You Apply Transmedia Storytelling to Museums?

It was 2010 when I opened my inbox and read: ‘Congratulations! It is with pleasure that we invite you to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus #8 in Berlin. You were selected from over 4700 applicants from 128 countries.’

I was on cloud number nine, trying to pick which events I wanted to attend. Some events I knew I couldn’t miss, like the masterclass given by Oscar winner composer Alexander Desplat. Regarding others, I simply followed my curiosity. In one of them, I saw examples of transmedia storytelling projects, and my life changed forever.

What is transmedia storytelling?

The term transmedia storytelling was coined by Henry Jenkins.

In his book Convergence of Culture, he defined it as ‘a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story’.

A transmedia storytelling project is people-centered, fitting onto the audience’s lives. Storytellers adapt content and how it’s delivered based on audience responses.

Transmedia storytelling in entertainment

I didn’t realize back then, but when I went to the Berlinale Talent Campus, I was already researching my first transmedia storytelling case study in my master thesis in cinema studies. This was when I discovered Hollywood had been using transmedia storytelling in its movies, TV series and marketing campaigns for many decades.

Take Star Wars, for example. It started as a trilogy of movies released between 1977 and 1983, written by a single person. Now there are hundreds of products expanding the Star Wars story. The story coherency across multiple platforms is maintained by a group of writers.

As a TV series example, check out ‘Heroes’ created by Tim Kring (2006-2010). Its characters and plot lines were developed in a webcomic, graphic novel, online documentary, and websites.

The marketing campaign ‘Why so Serious?’ released to promote the movie ‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008 was able to engage 11 million unique participants in 75 countries.

For 15 months, it played across hundreds of web pages, interactive games, mobile phones, print, email, real-world events, video and unique collectibles.

The movie ‘The Dark Knight’ had the biggest opening day of all time and was the top-grossing film of the year.

Transmedia storytelling in brands

After finishing my master’s, I started doing my Ph.D. and this was when I discovered that brands had also been exploring transmedia storytelling for many years, as their brand strategy or as a marketing campaign.

Burberry is a great example of a brand using transmedia storytelling. Former CEO, Angela Ahrendts, explains in this short documentary, the Burberry brand strategy across their physical and digital platforms.

The campaign ‘Happiness Factory’, which began in 2006, remains one of my favorite transmedia storytelling marketing campaigns.

It started when Coca-Cola launched a 60-second commercial on Super Bowl. It was so successful that Coca-Cola hired the company Starlight Runner Entertainment to create a story bible where the story world and characters were developed.

Amongst the platforms produced, there were television commercials, animated shorts, music, web sites, app games, Coke Museum introduction, magazine text stories, and comics.

The results were extremely positive, with Coca-Cola global sales increasing by 7% (2008 – 2009). This was one of the most successful advertising campaigns in the history of the brand.

Transmedia storytelling in tourism

What happens when transmedia storytelling meets tourism? Is the tourist experience enhanced by using transmedia storytelling? This was my Ph.D. research. Besides studying different case studies, I also created a pilot experience – TravelPlot Porto – which invited tourists to visit my city and find a hidden treasure. It had several platforms such as an app, a website, a print map, live events, and social media.

The results were promising for the tourism industry.

Transmedia storytelling in museums

In order to build a transmedia storytelling strategy for your museum, you need to pay attention to the story, platforms and your audience.

In 2020, Jenkins wrote about an entertainment trend where ‘Hollywood is increasingly interested in constructing worlds rather than simply telling stories.’

Museums don’t need to construct worlds. Each museum has its own rich and detailed world full of characters, locations, and stories, allowing the museum macro story to grow in different platforms and across time.

By using transmedia storytelling, museums can create a richer and more immersive experience, giving the audience a choice on the content they want to consume and what the level of participation they want to have with that content.

Museums are also able to reach different target audiences, with content tailored to the different platforms.

Conclusion

In transmedia storytelling, there are micro stories told across multiple platforms with audience participation, where each platform makes a valuable and distinctive contribution to the macro story.

By using transmedia storytelling in your strategy, you can expect to:

–       increase the brand visibility of your museum;

–       reach different audiences across platforms;

–       create shareable experiences and;

–       generate loyalty and engagement.

Even though transmedia storytelling can be used effectively in many scenarios, don’t forget:

1)    The story should always lead the way.

2)    Each platform has its own objective, use, and audience.

3)    Give your audience a choice to engage but remember that going in deep should remain an option.

4)    Coherency and consistency amongst platforms are a must.

5)    There is no transmedia storytelling formula. For each project, decisions need to be made according to your story, your audience, your context, and the resources you have at your disposal.

 

About the author – Soraia Ferreira

Soraia Ferreira is Story Strategy Consultant and Trainer at Yellow Pictures. She’s also an Invited Assistant Professor at University of Porto teaching transmedia storytelling, interactive storytelling and documentary.

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