Principles of Transmedia Storytelling

Watched an interesting lecture by the ‘father’ of transmedia storytelling, Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, who recently returned to MIT (he’s now at USC) to speak to students about the 7 principles of transmedia storytelling. You can find the full 50 minute lecture at his blog  here, but I’ve summarised some of the key points I took out of it.

Essentially ‘transmedia storytelling’ is cross platform entertainment where each media touchpoint makes its own unique contribution to the story and the audience/community is encouraged to engage with the story and remix it to help influence the outcome of the story. In terms of brand communications, there has been quite a few famous ‘transmedia’ ideas, most notably the ARG’s (Alternate Reality Games) used to launch moves like The Dark Knight, or McDonald’s ‘The Lost Ring’ ARG associated with the Beijing Olympics. There’s also been Audie’s ‘Art of the Heist’ and numerous others. I’ve always been fascinated by ARG’s just because they generally ask people to play an active role in the outcome of the story, and what’s ‘on screen’ is only part of the story.

In a nutshell here are the 7 principles of transmedia storytelling which Henry spoke about:


With transmedia narratives it’s about ‘depth of engagement’  – you have to create a story arc that allows people to deep dive into it’s complexities and uncover nuances. This makes it far more engaging for the true fan as they have a reason to keep coming back.


Most traditional advertising communications speak about ‘continuity’, but in fact the success of transmedia storytelling comes down to ‘multiplicity’, where people are encouraged to have different perspectives on characters. A great example of this is Batman, in terms of all the comics, anime and cartoons, there are always slightly different perspectives on the character which make the franchise ever more appealing and contextual to youth.


For me, the most interesting part of great transmedia ideas are when elements are taken out of the story and put into the real world which enable deep immersion by the consumer. Brands that are driving digital scavenger hunts like for HALO 3 ODST are doing well at building extractability within their ideas so the consumer id engaged beyond their computer screen or mobile.


The story created is just the beginning, what really matters is what happens in ‘their world’ – how people interact and taken on what fans have gathered. Think Pokemon, which has over 200 characters to collect or the complex relationships between all the X-Men characters . In essence people want to map the stories of these characters and take joy when brands take them on a journey.

5.       SERIALITY

Sounds really obvious, but seriality is a critical component of a transmedia narrative. A series of instalments drive both anticipation and speculation of what will happen next with the idea, resulting in deeper engagement for the individual.


Transmedia ideas typically work best when people can uncover a ‘backstory’ or secondary characters within the mix who have or will influence the outcome of the story. So in the case of ARG’s, people want to know the lead in and reasoning behind what’s happening. It comes down to people’s fascination with mythology and a world where people are constantly interested in hearing different points of view and comparing them.


This principal should really be called REMIX, as it’s all about fans bring the content into their own world and putting a spin on it, it’s about crowdsourcing and reconstructing the narrative. The Hunt for Gollum story is a perfect example of fans creating this narrative as a prequel/backstory to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As a youth marketer, there’s alot we can learn here, first and foremost is that brands today need to think about how their brands story unfold over multiple touchpoints as well as how the colletive remixes that story along the way. Nothing should ever be set in stone, what we do as marketers is START SOMETHING..hopefully a conversational in culture that can then unfold and be remixed in culture.