Bring the power of Hollywood storytelling to your brand
Jeff Barber | January 12, 2015
A viral video about sharks in Lake Ontario helped Nissan promote the 2014 Rogue SUV.
Last summer, Nissan partnered with Discovery Channel and Bell Media to launch a co-branded transmedia marketing campaign promoting Shark Week … and the Nissan Rogue.
A week after the unbranded viral video sparked a nationwide reaction, the campaign— In Search of Canada’s Rogue Shark—was announced. It stoked anticipation for Discovery’s Shark Week, the record-setting series that’s viewed by millions and sponsored, of course, by the Nissan Rogue.
Nissan isn’t alone. AT&T, Audi, Chipotle, Coca-Cola, Lego, Mattel, Microsoft, Pepperidge Farm, and REI are among the pioneering brands that have launched transmedia marketing campaigns as part of their digital strategies.
Three approaches to building a transmedia marketing campaign
Whether your brand has an established story world, or you’re venturing into transmedia marketing for the first time, you can apply these approaches to transform your media reach—and your bottom line.
1. By design
You can design a self-contained transmedia campaign to serve a specific purpose, advertise a product line, promote an event, or all of the above.
Nissan’s Rogue Shark campaign transcended all three of these design elements to tell a story about the Rogue SUV in a way that resonated with both its target communities and the broader Shark Week audience.
“The campaign had it all,” said Advertising Age: “A homepage filled with exclusive digital content, a variety of interstitial cuts starring Canadian TV star Teddy Wilson and a documentary, "In Search of Canada's Rogue Shark," promoted by the Nissan Rogue (natch).”
Marketing Magazine reported that the viral video earned 500,000 plus views and “considerable media coverage.”
Nissan’s sponsorship of Shark Week included a five-part web series featuring the Rogue. “The [Rogue] integration shows the capabilities of the vehicle as we go across Canada,” said Cosimo Prochilo, Brand Partnerships Manager for Bell Media. “Nissan wanted to showcase the vehicle’s all-wheel drive and [other] features of the vehicle … it’s always about showing off what the Nissan Rogue can do.”
Online video is a critical part of any transmedia marketing campaign. Aim to capture the zeitgeist of your target audience with a shareable video that passes from friend to friend until your campaign has so many hits that it draws attention from media outlets, as the Nissan campaign did. Once you have their attention, invite them into your brand story world.
Be willing to take risks and transcend the limitations of any one platform or channel.
And, beware unintended consequences. The Rogue Shark caused a nationwide shark panic that rivaled Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. That’s the power of transmedia marketing: Use it wisely.
2. By evolution
Transmedia campaigns that go viral can evolve—or be evolved—into a story world that defines your brand.
In 2005, Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory campaign took off.
It worked with partners to create the Happiness Factory “bible,” which describes a world within the vending machine. According to Forbes, Coca-Cola and its partners “built the Happiness Factory into a global franchise that includes videogames, apps and social networking campaigns, as well as TV, radio, online, outdoor and mobile ads. After Coca-Cola rolled out the transmedia campaign it saw a 4% spike in global sales, according to the company.”
In 2011, Coca-Cola revealed the evolution of its worldwide brand marketing strategy into an in-house led, transmedia-inspired initiative called Content 2020. Content 2020 defines how Coca-Cola will use innovative and immersive storytelling to move from creative excellence to content excellence and to create customer interactions with its key brand campaigns. If its subsequent campaigns—such as Share A Coke and the all-digital “Ahh”—are any indication, the strategy is working.
Be prepared for the possibility that your campaign could succeed beyond your goals and transform your approach to brand marketing. Build in participation and feedback loops, listen to what your customers say, and be prepared to guide the organic evolution of your story world.
Customer participation and feedback is imperative; however, take care not to give control to your audience.
Retaining control over your story world’s brand narrative will allow you to guide its evolution by carefully adopting new canon and providing new points of entry via new campaigns, informed by your transmedia story world bible.
3. By extension
Established brand stories can be extended into a story world by introducing a character to guide the audience through the story world, establishing canon, and extending the story world to new media platforms and channels.
The challenge is that your loyal fan base has high expectations. Your goal must be to exceed them; nothing less will do. Listen closely and empathetically to your fans and ordinary customers, and find ways to unexpectedly delight them and motivate them to share.
The Huffington Post praised Microsoft for its transmedia campaign precursor to the release of Halo 4.
The console game, Halo, was a great success in its first three iterations, but with sales waning, Microsoft had to find a way to up the game. Beginning with a web series starring Master Chief, Halo’s main protagonist and the “face of the franchise,” Microsoft extended Halo into a transmedia franchise. The transmedia strategy helped the Halo series sales hit 50 million in unit sales.
The power of transmedia marketing
Transmedia marketing has the power to attract prospects, engage loyal customers, and drive revenue.
The brands that succeed today learned from Hollywood’s most successful franchises. In the ever-increasing footrace for customer attention, they provide compelling, story-based media that meet customers on all their devices and in all the places they frequent.
Build a great brand story world, and your customers will invite others along for the ride.
Hollywood storytelling series
This post is the second in a series on Hollywood storytelling. Jeff’s first post, 5 ways to bring your brand to life with Hollywood storytelling, makes a case for transmedia storytelling as the future of marketing and offers five tips for how to put transmedia marketing to work in your organization.