Once upon a time, life for entertainment marketers was simple: producers created a new show, and the marketing team developed a campaign to promote it and attract an audience.
But with rapidly increasing competition for viewers, growing smartphone and tablet penetration, and the emergence of new platforms, marketing and creative teams are increasingly playing an important role in developing “storyworlds,” experiences that bridge the gap between marketing and content and lay out the mythology, characters, setting, backstories, and events that drive a show.
Red Bee Media’s Andy Bryant laid out his eight rules for creating a successful transmedia storyworld at the 2014 PromaxBDA Europe Conference in London.
Rule 1: Start Building Early
“As the battle for viewers’ attention becomes more and more intense, we’re seeing marketing teams start to build their storyworlds earlier and earlier ahead of launches,” Bryant said.
A classic example he pointed to was HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which began building anticipation for the premiere way back in 2011 by sending scents, scrolls and potions to influential writers, while staging “GoT”-themed food truck events in New York City and Los Angeles.
SyFy’s “Defiance” also got a jump start on their storyworld, launching a total takeover of Comic-Con nine months ahead of the premiere, and developing a cultural map that plotted major cultural events such as awards shows and allowed the “Defiance” team to plan their launch with “military precision.”
“Marketers are moving from a traditional campaign model to a semi-publishing model,” Bryant said.
Rule 2: Create Immersive Experiences
These can involve microsites, online treasure hunts, and interactive trailers.
To generate fan engagement ahead of the highly anticipated return of the third season of “Sherlock” after a two-year hiatus, Red Bee created an interactive trailer with clickable hot spots that unlocked extra pieces of content that fans could share across various social media platforms.
Red Bee also had a funeral hearse fitted out with flowers, a date, and a hashtag travel from the show to several iconic London locations, where it was met by fans.
Rule 3: Develop the Characters
CBS’’ “How I Met Your Mother” is one of the best examples here, Bryant said.
The Eye Network has constantly nurtured the characters’ backstories off-screen by developing additional YouTube and online content that played off of the storylines presented in the episodes.
One long-running gag on the show involves the main characters making fun of Robin Scherbatsky’s (Cobie Smulders) Canadian background. One of the stories from her Canadian past revolves around her time as a popular teenage mall singer named Robin Sparkles.
CBS went so far as to produce out a full-length music video for Robin Sparkles’ hit single, “Let’s Go to the Mall,” which diehard “HIMYM” fans can still share on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
The producers also have created fake websites centered on gags from the show, and a line of books featuring the “Bro Code,” the life lessons and rules developed by lead character Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris).
Rule 4: Send Love Letters to the Audience
“One of the key ways marketers are successfully enriching storyworlds is creating content for fans just to enjoy,” Bryant said.
For the 50th anniversary of the beloved British sci-fi show “Doctor Who” last winter, Red Bee crafted a time-frozen portrait that rolls through the 50-year history of the franchise, featuring all past Doctors, as well as many of their companions and nemeses. There are also winks to the Doctor’s favorite candy (Jelly Bellies), a glimpse of the opening scene from the first broadcast in 1963, and various tools and gadgets from the show.
“It had a strong single and exciting narrative that you could understand and enjoy if you knew nothing about “Doctor Who,” Red Bee’s Executive Creative Director Charlie Mawer told Brief in November. “But then underneath that there is layer upon layer upon layer that rewards and is a hat tip to the Whovians.”
Rule 5: Harness Social Media
Building social media commentary ahead of a premiere date is one of the biggest ways to drive tune-in and promote engagement, Bryant said.
To promote the second season of the Franco-British thriller “The Tunnel,” Canal+ sent a series of voicemail messages from the “Truth Terrorist” character in the show to influential bloggers. In addition to posting the message, they were directed to other exclusive content to share with the followers.
Stateside, HBO geared up for the third season of “Game of Thrones” by sending a series of personalized, hand-crafted, branded gift boxes to 200 influencers, from Mindy Kaling to Beyonce to Stephen Colbert, knowing that they would Tweet and Instagram the images of the boxes to their fans.
Rule 6: Keep the Storyworld Alive Between Seasons
“There’s no such thing as going dark anymore,” Bryant quoted Syfy’s Dana Ortiz as saying, stressing how important it is to keep fans engaged and to keep building the storyworld between seasons and episodes.
Rule 7: Encourage Fans to Interact
Canal+ in Spain promoted the return of “Game of Thrones” by gathering fans of the show and putting them directly in the promo for the new season by reciting the “Night’s Watch Oath” from the series. The promo carried the tagline “Si lo vives es verdad” (If you live it, it’s true).
Rule 8: Take the Story to the Real World
“We’ve got to put the viewers inside the experience. That’s the future,” Bryant quoted Stephen Spielberg as saying.
A great example: AMC’s “The Walking Dead Escape,” which brings a zombie-themed obstacle course inspired by the world of the show to cities around the U.S.