When I was at CES I was lucky enough to sit down with the crew from Starlight Runner who are doing great things in ‘transmedia’ campaigns to help brands achieve a wider reach for their products and projects. While we didn’t chat much about work in Vegas it did lay some groundwork so that we could sit down and talk about how and why a brand should look at a transmedia approach to marketing and more importantly, the online video role in such a campaign.
What’s the first thing you look at when taking a property that is only video and expanding it into other forms of media?
At Starlight Runner when we examine a property for its potential to be expanded across a variety of media platforms, we first have to establish with our client that we are not a company that repurposes content. What we do, that I think is in sync with what at least two generations of audience members are looking for, is to place the established video content into a greater context in terms of the vision and story being told. If your property or “story world” is rich and detailed enough — or if it lends itself to enrichment and depth — then it is a good candidate for multi-platform expansion. We’re the first to say that not all stories lend themselves to this kind of treatment.
What’s the main goal that brands usually want to achieve with a more transmedia approach?
The main goal in implementing transmedia narrative techniques for the brand owner is to invite a closer and more lasting relationship with the consumer. As opposed to conventional broadcast messaging, good transmedia design creates an architecture that allows for transparency and dialog. Audience members are invited to participate in an experience being forwarded by the brand, and we tell brand owners that they can no longer shy away from that level of engagement. It’s expected now, and that’s not going away. Of course, there has to be a strong level of quality in the brand itself if it’s going to stand up to that kind of scrutiny. But that’s good news to me.
How important is online video in that equation and why?
Online video plays a vital role in effective transmedia implementation, now more than ever. There are two challenges that have to be transcended however. The first is that many brand owners seem to perceive the Internet as a stand-in for television. So in terms of concept, design, production and rollout they are treating this content as if its a TV commercial or short film. This fails to leverage the most powerful features of the web, which are participative. The greatest salesmen in the world are those who passionately believe in a product and are capable of articulating that passion. If you’re simply posting video, you are not giving the viewer any tools for self-expression. As Aaron Shapiro says in his book, you want “Users, Not Customers.”
Where do you see online video heading in the future?
As a new generation of creators, producers and executives rise to power, we’re going to see an exciting new video design and integration sensibility come into play. Video will segue into and out of a more fully realized interactive experience, one that is going to be easily navigable even for those of us who weren’t raised with a game controller in our hands. Brand owners and entertainment content producers are also going to realize that technology is further leveling the playing field and that huge swathes of target audience members are becoming capable of generating their own video. The video expression of audience members is going to become more polished, and more importantly it’s going to become more poignant, which will make their arguments more compelling. So again, in the near future brand owners and content creators will simply have to place an emphasis on quality and transparency.
Do you think there will be a big push in TV studios moving into more diverse transmedia campaigns?
The smart ones are already grappling with these issues. But I do want to point out the distinction between a transmedia campaign that is the brainchild of your marketing department after the fact, and the far more fertile and intriguing notion of developing and designing the content itself to engage the audience across all of these platforms in concert. Starlight Runner has been an advocate of this approach and we are thrilled to see some of our more innovative clients doing just this. Look at Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory campaign. Look at 343 Industries’ Halo franchise. These exemplify campaigns designed to operate in a transmedia fashion in the very conference room where the intellectual property is being conceived. With the help of transmedia producers like myself, the creators and producers are as involved with the online video as they are in the television or video game production. The result is that you are maximizing your IP investment dollars and each iteration and extension helps to tell the story, engage the audience and nurture the brand. That’s not to say that certain TV studios are keeping their heads in the ground, but I’m predicting the ones that are getting the jump will see a stunning return on investment in the coming months.
How can brands benefit from a campaign that incorporates several different types of media?
It’s simple: the way that we, as a culture, are consuming story is changing rapidly and spectacularly. Look at SOPA, look at Komen and Planned Parenthood, look at the so-called Arab Spring — incredible power has fallen into the hands of self-organized, but otherwise ordinary, human beings. If we don’t learn how to reach them in ways that are becoming second nature to them, in ways that validate and even celebrate their participation, then we will fall behind those who have figured out how to do it right. We are watching former Fortune 500 companies fold, even entire industries slowly implode, because they are tacitly refusing to learn how to navigate the chaotic waves of pervasive communication. In teaching my clients and students how to surf them, I’ve found my bliss.
Our thanks to Jeff for his time. Not only is online video important to a good transmedia campaign, it is also a powerful tool for storytelling and user engagement that can drastically increase brand awareness and consumer connection to the brand. That is, if you work from the ground up on incorporating it correctly and not just plugging it in after the fact.
Starlight Runner Entertainment, Inc. is a leading creator and producer of highly successful transmedia franchises, maximizing the value of entertainment properties and consumer brands by preparing them for extension across multiple media platforms. Starlight Runner Entertainment also produces animated and live-action feature films, as well as digital content.
The company packages books, comics and graphic novels, and develops video games and alternate reality experiences with world-renowned partners and clients. Since the company launch in 2000, Starlight Runner has been commissioned by corporate giants including Disney, Hasbro and Coca-Cola, offering guidance on how to expand and broaden storyline universes of intellectual properties that can then be marketed in concert across a variety of platforms simultaneously or gradually.