Transmedia Adscapsim…an ironic use of buzzwords
Ad agencies are very good at latching onto buzzwords, though often they are also pretty adept at wildly misusing them in self congratulatory Big Thinking. We have had “Participation” bandied about, “Behavioural Economics”, “Gameification”, and more recently “Transmedia”. And in the tradition of self congratulatory Big Thinking from an ad person- this is about “Transmedia”.
Developed by Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia” is the idea that story-telling has changed as media has developed. Every new media has created new forms of narrative with it, and the internet has done exactly the same, though arguably to a greater extent due to the fact that the internet can sort of act as any media. Trans-media story-telling is now everywhere. In film we have some of the best examples, from the massive game played around the release of The Dark Night, “Why so Serious?”, to James Cameron’s Avatar. When questioned about his film, Avatar’s producer John Landau replied “This is not just a movie. It’s a world”.
Its all over TV as well. “Lost” led viewers on a narrative so complex, multi-layered and confusing that immersing yourself in the story beyond the TV was necessary just to keep up. I consequently failed.
You can see the same thing in another of those buzz words- “gameification”, which lets you immerse yourself in a game while in the real world, by rewarding you, giving you points and setting you challenges. No longer do you have to toil away at household chores and brushing your teeth, without being giving points and congratulated by your iphone.
Its not hard to see why all this is so popular. At its simplest it is escapism, which is inherently attractive. You get to leave behind the worries of the world and instead live in a world which is fantastical, where you are constantly rewarded, and where there is some underlying order to everything. You could also argue when the world seems a scary place, with floods and earthquakes of biblical proportions and economic meltdown, escapism becomes even more attractive.
So we have a situation where its now both easier, because of the technology, and potentially more attractive, given socio-economic trends, to indulge a bit of escapism.
And yet despite all this there seems to be very little of it in advertising. Frank Rose discusses advertising in his “The Art of Immersion”, mentioning Old Spice, Nike Plus and a couple of others, but that’s about it.
And I think that’s because we have spent too long taking a very superficial understanding of “participation” (upload your video now) or “gameification” (do this to get a point), or “transmedia” (do an app), while ignoring that it should all be about escapism. The big winners we all discuss- Gatorade Replay, Nike Plus etc are great because they give you the chance to escape into their world, even for a moment. This might be as simple as creating an experience and letting people share in it (Coke Happiness, T-Mobile Dance, VW Fun Theory) but it can also be creating a more immersive experience which gives people the opportunity to escape.
When done wrong you replace enjoyable escapism with a world of arbitrary rules. Second Life became far more stressful than real life, because of the fact that in real life you virtually never have to worry about being seduced by talking animals. Playing Foursquare doesn’t make life into an enjoyable game, like Mariocart, but sucks all the enjoyment out of life’s simplest pleasures and traps you in an endless competition to achieve the meaningless title of “Mayor”. And if uploading a video of swishing your hair onto the internet is escapism then I dread to think what real life is like.
So I suppose this is a call for a bit more escapism. It’s a tough old world out there and brands have the opportunity to invite people into their world and let them play. And to help it catch on I am giving it a buzzword.
Welcome to “Adscapsim”.