By robert pratten, January 22nd, 2010

I’m very grateful to the producers of Vauxhall Crossed for allowing me to publish the work I did at the end of last year and to be able to show where we are now.

Let me say at the outset that I do appreciate that in an ideal world of transmedia storytelling, no media is of lesser importance than the other. However, right now I’m working with people who have an existing property – usually a movie script – and want to make that their priority. Hence you’ll often find me referring to comic books and games as though they’re subservient to the feature film. I know that they needn’t be but that’s the situation I’m dealing with most often.

Purpose

The purpose of this blog posting is to show how I’ve been using transmedia for audience building and to welcome comments from others who can suggest points for improvement. You might also like to check-out what’s been implemented and give it a whirl!

I’ve also mentioned a few cool sites that you might use to implement your own projects.

Digging for Oil

The diagram below illustrates my usual analogy for growing a fan base. The principle is that you have to start by reaching out to people who are most receptive to your idea. Others might say to go fishing where the fish are.

"Striking oil" analogy for growing fan base

The oil analogy is a good one because the early stages are quite tough. It takes a concerted effort to get that initial traction. It’s a bit like developing your feature film: it feels like an uphill struggle in the beginning – you’re trying to get either finance or cast to fall into line when they’re both dependent on each other. But then when finally someone gives you a break everything starts to fall into place and all the barriers start to melt away.

So it is with audience building, it takes time and hard work to get those early followers but once you do the project starts to get traction and everything gets easier little by little.

Background

Vauxhall Crossed is a family, action-adventure feature film about an MI6 agent called Daisy Scarlett (think female James Bond).

If you pop over to my site at http://zenfilms.typepad.com you’ll find the full report that was presented to the producers. It describes the state of play as of December 2009 and details my advice.

What I’d like to focus on here is the transmedia extension I suggested and then later implemented.

Implementation

Working from the Vauxhall Crossed script, I proposed the idea of establishing a fake Chinese take-away (take-out restaurant) and using this as an “unofficial” or rather secret home of Daisy Scarlett fans.  Given that our target audience is fans of spy movies I thought the opportunity to become involved in some subterfuge would appeal to them. It also creates audience “insiders” and “outsiders” which would reward early adopters and strengthen the bond among the most enthusiastic fans.

I reasoned that the audience would fall into three camps:

  • Those who really like to play spy games (hardcores)
  • Those who just think it’s fun to fool their friends
  • Those who think this is all a cute idea but don’t have the time or can’t be bothered to play along (casuals).

I also wanted to allow the hardcore spy enthusiasts to directly contribute to the experience. This would be fun for them and alleviate some of the work from the producers.

Hence there will effectively be two-types of game. The first is based on the premise is that it’s fun to trick your friends. In this case, it’s fun to trick them into believing that this is the best Chinese food ever and they really must place an order. Of course, the food never arrives.

The second game will be more involved and based on a stronger role-play of pretending to be a spy. This has yet to worked through fully because it’s more demanding on the producers’ resources.

The diagram below shows a four-tier website trail:

  • The main movie webpage promotes the movie in the usual way, providing information about cast and crew etc. But there’s also a small advert for our Chinese take-away.
  • The Chinese take-away looks like a real restaurant website except for a few tell-tale clues that this can’t really be real. For example, I made the service delivery times and the concept rather eccentric!
  • If someone is brave or mad enough to become a fan of the take-away then they’re rewarded with a secret page! This members-only area reveals the secrets of the scam and tells people how to take part in the fun. Part of that fun is keeping the Facebook page alive – writing fake reviews and uploading photos of friends eating the take-away food.
  • For those that really want to dig deep, there’s a hardcore site at Ning where the members can create their own spy games for the others to play.

Daisy Scarlett Webpages

Facebook is also important because that’s where everyone’s friends are: It’s easy to upload reviews, video and photos and of course everything is visible to your social network.

A Twitter channel is used to convey game updates, missions and clues to members.

Both Facebook and Twitter are explained further in the report at my site.

The Story So Far

At the time of writing the basic building blocks are in place so it’s easy to see how the concept should work.

I implemented the restaurant using www.moonfruit.com because it’s very quick and easy, it’s free and allows members-only pages. It’s especially cool because it’s possible to use Facebook Connect. The screenshot below shows the website but I encourage you to check it out at http://wingtip.moonfruit.com

Our Chinese Take-Away Restaurant

You’ll notice that there are five tabs on the website. If you become a member then a sixth tab becomes visible, marked “Confidential”! The image below shows the message you receive.

The "Confidential" Pages

And finally, this last image shows the Ning hardcore members page.

The Ning Membership Site

At this time there’s no mention of the Vauxhall Crossed movie but we hope to add that at a later date.

I should also mention that to manage all the Twitter streams, we’re using HootSuite – a great application that allows us to track spy news, see who’s into James Bond and Jason Bourne etc. as well as message and retweet information we think might be interesting to our audience. In this way we hope that the movie communications form a valuable, useful part of the target audience conversation: we’re not constantly tweeting about how the movie is progressing (which would be tantamount to spam).

Next Steps

The most difficult next step will be trying to get traction among the potential fan base. Without encouragement I suspect that the sites will stay dormant – a potentially good idea drowned in a sea of web sites. It might also be likely that we’ll need to better structure the fun so that there’s a clearer link between participation and reward. Right now the reward is just “fun” but it’s likely that we’ll have to offer some kind of prize which would mean determining the basis for measuring and awarding the prize.

We also need to make available for download the restaurant graphics so that members can download, print locally and use to fake the take-out boxes. Right now we only have the menu available for download.

For further details, please check out the full report and please do leave questions and comments below.

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Posted in audience-building community cross-media gaming transmedia

robert pratten Robert Pratten is CEO and Founder of Transmedia Storyteller Ltd, an audience engagement company and provider of Conducttr, an pervasive entertainment platform. He has more than 20 years experience as an international marketing consultant and has established himself as a thought-leader in the field of transmedia storytelling. He is author of the first practical book transmedia storytelling: Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners. http://twitter.com/robpratten

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  • workbookproject

    test comment

  • Here's something interesting that's happening.... http://www.facebook.com/rekill

  • Thanks Robert. Great ideas. We're working along similar lines.

    I'm documenting our transmedia process at http://newbreed.workbookprojec...

    In the report, you say: "create a timetable and strategy for building a fan base such that each activity reinforces the next"

    Do you care to go into any more detail about this? How long you imagine this timeline will be, or have you actually worked on any of the strategy?

  • Thanks for the question Mark and sorry for the delay in responding.
    Regards the timetable, although it's important to start as early as possible I still feel that there ought to be some kind of climax to work to. For Vauxhall Crossed this climax is going to be the release of the movie in theaters. For other projects it could be the point at which there's something to buy (DVD) or an event (premiere screening).

    Although it would be nice if audiences were to follow our every move and wait impatiently for each new nugget of content or gossip, the reality is "new" is sexy and "old" is buried under the new. Unless you have the resources to constantly innovate with your marketing or are periodically releasing interesting new material, you have to work through your own story for how you're going to build the climax (the pay off).

    So, without a "due date" for the movie as yet, it's important to pace ourselves carefully and not blow our load too soon. Our plan is to slowly build the fanbase through the user-created content and interaction/participation - it's pretty much the only way to economically maintain the interest over long periods. We're doing this one fan at a time. There's no need to have a big push for early adopters because we have time and we lack a lot of resources (content and the development time). As the movie approaches first day of shooting we'll ratchet up the marketing by increasing the amount of "official" content. All this early work is clearly aimed at the "hardcore" and not casuals who come much later.

    Hope that helps?

  • Great article. You're hammering out some of the same ideas that we've been working on for our show. I love the idea of the cover restaurant. I'd love to know how you feel things are going for your project.

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