By Francis Kan
Photo credit: Starlight Runner
The launch of any Hollywood movie these days is usually accompanied with a blast of related content delivered across a variety of platforms. Viewers not only get to watch trailers, but also play a video game, read the book or even interact with the characters on social media.
One of the pioneers of this "transmedia" phenomenon is Jeff Gomez, founder and CEO of Starlight Runner, a company that helps entertainment companies and consumer product firms maximise the value of their intellectual properties and brands by telling their stories through a variety of media touch points.
Starlight has done work for leading companies such as Walt Disney Corporation, Coca-Cola and Mattel. IMpact caught up with Jeff in Singapore, where he was a speaker at Innovfest Unbound held in May.
How has transmedia changed the media and entertainment industries, and what are the benefits of adopting such a strategy?
When I first started transmedia in the 1990s, it was largely an unknown concept. The only successful transmedia brands or properties became this way because the original property was successful in the first place. Star Wars could move across platforms because the movie was incredibly successful.
Today it is only natural for any intellectual property – whether it is a movie or a brand – to want to do it. It has worked best for franchises like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe with big story worlds where content is spread across different media and do not repeat themselves. Now the big brands are doing the same thing; communicating different facets of their brands across different media.
Audiences are splintered right now, and they may only encounter your brand on the medium they use the most. Transmedia helps ensure that you reach your audience wherever they may be.
What are some of the pitfalls to look out for when embarking on such a strategy?
The most common pitfall in attempting transmedia is not distilling a brand's essence – the core foundational narrative of the brand or the company. The narrative must be engineered so that it is resonant with the audience and consistent across different platforms.
We are working with a charity called World Vision, which has a Child Sponsorship programme. We had to re-examine the core narrative and shift the story. It is not about rescuing a poor child, but uniting the family, the organisation and the consumer to become a single community that helps one another.
What are some concerns your clients have had about adopting transmedia?
Brands are resistant to the idea of consumers engaging directly with their property, and yet when the project did have this dialogue, the loyalty was intense.
Microsoft's Halo video game was extremely successful on its Xbox platform, and the management felt they had a property as strong as Star Wars. They hired us and we ran an analysis and determined that players only had a mild interest in the story, so we wanted to more seriously introduce the story concept.
So we established a dialogue with the fans through Xbox Live where we could extract the data about what they liked. It was enormously successful. Today, this architecture for dialogue is being embraced by brands. Not to do so is to risk falling out of touch with your consumers.
How well placed are Singapore companies/brands to do transmedia?
Singapore companies and brands are extremely well placed to use transmedia strategies for a few reasons. First, transmedia works best when you know a lot about your target audience. The population in Singapore is relatively modest, concentrated, and possesses any number of common cultural touchpoints. Data on their behavior, preferences and desires is plentiful.
Do you have any advice or tips for local companies that are looking to pursue a transmedia strategy?
Transmedia storytelling has become a growing interest in Singapore. The Singapore Media Academy has also been holding courses and seminars on transmedia content creation, production and distribution to keep Singaporeans at the forefront of this phenomenon.
The Mediacorp TV series, The Dream Makers II (2016), boasts two web series spin-offs, online games, and a social media campaign, resulting in 100 million impressions, breaking the network’s online viewership and participation records.
Entrepreneurs and local brands are starting to take an interest, because it is now clear that transmedia in Singapore can be done on a more modest budget. Transmedia producers advocate strategies derived from insights into the specific connections made between audience and brand.
Often these bonds boil down to “aspirational drivers” or elements of wish fulfillment that the brand can project in its storytelling, as well as a sense of listening; how the brand monitors feedback and engages in dialogue with the audience. The combination is potent.
This, in turn, leads to one of the most powerful aspects of transmedia storytelling: the cultivation of “ultra-fans”, consumers who go out of their way to spread the word by posting, advocating and recruiting new customers for the brand.
What new technologies are being employed in the transmedia world?
We are seeing interesting applications of virtual reality (VR) where you can explore the environment in powerful ways. But even more interesting with VR is the idea that you can bond intimately with characters or real people.
For instance, refugees can use VR to experience what it would be like to live in a temporary home built in another country and they can talk about that experience because they have been immersed in it.
What were some of your more memorable projects?
On the entertainment side, it was working with James Cameron on Avatar. It was a breathtaking chance to work with a genius director at the top of his game, creating a story world from scratch. The story had immediate resonance and relevance to global issues.
For brands, we created a virtual world of characters and storylines for Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory advertising campaign, which was very well received.