Don’t brand, create a world!

This year, I am teaching a course entitled “Transmedia Storytelling” at Reinhardt University. It is basically our capstone course (or senior seminar or however you would like to call it). When my overly-ambitous self gets ridiculously excited about academic ventures, I end up doing not-so-smart things… In this episode of “getting myself overworked”, I promised my students that I will do all the assignments with them. Basically, over the next few months, I will write four reflection blog posts and create a transmedia storytelling campaign for a client of my choice (it will be a place branding campaign for Waleska, GA – a city most famous for being home to Reinhardt University, and also for me.)

The first reading I assigned was Mark Wolf’s Building Imaginary Worlds. I wanted to encourage my students to think about marketing (or strategic communication) as a way to create a fictional world. I want to expand a little bit more on why I chose this particular reading and connect it with my own project.

Turkayfe1

Our first homepage for Turkayfe.org – A website dedicated to telling Turkey’s story

Transmedia is about technology, right?

The biggest challenge for the course was to introduce the background of the concepts. We currently expose communication students to numerous sources on the role of technology. The exposure is so high that students sometimes equate “communication” with “communication technology”. Transmedia storytelling, or using multiple platforms to present one coherent narrative, is not bound by technology. I accept the fact that technology has provided us with cooler toys and platforms. But we can still tell our stories – even in transmedia format – through analog tools.

Give me a place to stand, and I will move this audience!

Barchimedes – Archimedes’ lesser-known cousin, a communication scholar

 

This is why I started the semester with chapter three in Wolf’s book. The first sentence the students read was “Secondary worlds are interesting because of the parallels that can be drawn between them and the Primary World”. Our priority should be the “storytelling” part, not the “transmedia” part. A good act of communication gives us a convincing story. These stories need to take place somewhere, right? And that ‘somewhere’ is called “secondary worlds”.

Wolf’s book is an impressive collection of examples. More’s Utopia? Secondary World. Gulliver’s Travels? Secondary World. Lord of the Rings? Secondary World. Flatland? My favorite secondary world. He identifies eight structures that come together to build an infrastructure – I am not going to go into details here because, well, when I do, I end up talking for three weeks.

The take-away point from Wolf’s chapter is “build a world, they will come”.

So, you are getting your students to write fiction, huh?

No! This was another challenge. It is very easy to give examples coming from the entertainment industry – especially the Lord of the Rings, not only because it is well-known but also because Tolkien discussed his ideas in details. Yet, a secondary world does not necessarily mean building up a brand new world. It is about “imagining” one and presenting a narrative surrounding it. In chapter 4, Wolf introduces “narratives” as the most common structure to bring together the aforementioned eight structures in world creation.

Wolf introduces Star Wars as a good example of world creation through narratives – through the stories of different characters, movies, books, fan fiction, and even documentaries. I remember how younger me (younger by two months) was so excited to spend weeks discussing Star Wars in class… As it happens, not many of my students watched the movies. So, we had to focus on other examples. Eventually, we came to Subway…

Each ad, therefore, presents a new world. An imaginary world, if you will, in which your product is the main actor. Everybody knows you, everybody cares about. In the above example, there are people willingly entering a Subway. Not only that, they are eating healthy products at Subway. Even more, Jared is losing weight!

Wolf shares tips about how to present coherent narratives and a comprehensive discussion on the elements. For my very-selfish reasons, the combination of narrative threads (or narrative braids) is the most intriguing. The problem in place branding – the problem we faced at Turkayfe.org – is that places have too many stories. You never run out of material, but how do you present a coherent narrative? How do you combine different groups?

Residents and tourists – how do you make sure their stories interact with each other? I think the city of Munich did an amazing job in providing a funny background story: a series of hypothetical interactions between tourists and tourist guides.

I would argue the best way to create narrative braids in transmedia storytelling for place brands is through “groups”. Not only by focusing in interaction areas but also by using the space on which interaction is happening as a narrative tool.

Chapters 3 and 4 in Wolf’s book were – I hope – instrumental in understanding that transmedia does not mean digital, secondary world does not mean fictional, and narrative is the key in marketing.

Yeah, good luck scaling these ideas to a town of 800! 

City…A city of 800….And, it will be challenging to come up with a strategy to present a narrative on a city of 800.

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