The power of storytelling is indisputable. So why, as a business, would you not adopt this strategy to market your brand? Jeff Gomez, founder and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, is the guy behind the success of several brand story world experiences, including Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory, James Cameron’s Avatar, various projects at Disney and many more.
Jeff recently visited Dubai to tell his own story, and we caught up with him to pick his remarkable brain about Transmedia Storytelling.
As a successful writer and producer of comic books and video games in the 90s, Jeff asked himself, “What if there was a technique to develop content that played across different media platforms in different ways, and that you could learn new things about the world of the story depending on how you encountered it on different media?”
“At first, when I wanted to sell this idea to my bosses, they didn’t understand it, and said ‘that sounds like you’re trying to reinvent Star Wars. You can’t reinvent Star Wars,’” he says.
“But you can create your world to be communicative to your audience,” he adds with a grin.
Transmedia Storytelling is a model that will create various access points for consumers to get to your brand. It’s a process of engaging an audience across numerous forms of media through the artful and well-planned use of multiple-platform storytelling. And it can be applied to any brand of any size.
When Mattel approached Jeff and his team, they were concerned about whether they could put their faith in his storytelling ability. Because if he got it wrong, he could damage the brand. So Jeff delved into their data. He and his team poured over mountains of records and reports, to understand the fundamentals of the company, its products and its customers. What he was looking for was a distinguishing quality, “we call this the brand essence,” he says.
“We build a story around this essence. It contains aspirational messages and we use the iconography of the brand to flesh out the story. And once you have that essence you use it for the subject of a dialogue,” he adds.
It’s a two-way street
Transmedia storytelling is distinguished by having an architecture for dialogue with a participation component. You’re not just collecting pieces of the story, you are communicating back to the storyteller, and somehow participating in the story world.
“It’s the thing they want the least,” Jeff says, “They say ‘we don’t want to talk to the customer! It can only lead to trouble, right?’ But what so many companies don’t understand is that there is an expectation in the rising generation in being listened to, to being heard. Especially here in the Middle East. And companies that do listen, that’s where the relationship is built.”
What do people need to hear?
Stop being so one-sided. Instead of simply trying to pump your message out there, get a feel for what’s going on out there. What’s the proverbial weather like? What kind of message do people of the MENA region need to hear from brands they associate with?
“In 2003, we were acutely aware of the socio-political situation, everyone was anxious, so we asked ourselves, what story did children need to hear? So [with Mattel’s Hot Wheels] we responded with a story of a diverse cast, different races joining forces, a team of racers instead of individual racers,” Jeff says. The story they created, named Highway 35, went on to become a tremendous success, lasting for 10 to 12 years, and consistently turning over a substantial additional profit for Mattel.
If you’re not authentic, it’s over
When somebody feels like he or she is being heard and they like what you produce and the way the story is told, they will stay with you forever. This is where it becomes scalable, because your followers They could even become an apostle for your brand, bringing in their friends and families.
“That’s where it really takes off. It’s scalable. But you have to care,” Jeff says. Occasionally we will get a potential client that doesn’t care. They say: ‘just help us tell the story in 5 different ways, because we need online and an app etc.’ We can’t help them because it’s not genuine. The audience will know right away, because they are capable of recognising authenticity. And if you’re not authentic, It’s over.
Monetisation happens at multiple access points
“I’m fascinated by the fact that with something like Harry Potter – children are being introduced to the story, not through the books, not even through the movies, but through Lego. That’s a touch point that nobody expected would be the biggest gateway bringing new young people into the Harry Potter world,” says Jeff.
“Even for smaller stories and business, we still need to think about multiple touch points, multiple access routes to the narrative. There needs to be a non-linear, multi-access point storyworld that allows for franchising and monetisation,” he adds.
The MENA region is ripe with a new generation of storytellers
As the major Hollywood franchises have become more global, that kind of content has become more accessible to the region. The new generation that buys into these iconic stories are what Jeff and his team call the Empath Network.
“We counted 500,000 young people in that network across the region last year. Events like the Middle East Film and Comic Conference have seen 45,000 attendees, and we believe the number is growing significantly,” Jeff says.
The number of young people that are trying to emulate what they see with their own content is growing.
“And this is beautiful. Because they have confidence in their culture, there’s a yearning for their voices to be heard. They want to participate and they want to talk back.”
Investors are keen for local content
In his research, Jeff has found that with resources declining, investors are turning their gaze on entertainment and production. “The next step would be for the investment in and cultivation of local IP. That doesn’t necessarily mean super culturally specific IP, but it will be a voice from here that expresses a narrative that has many unique qualities. It can be informed by cultural mythology, not necessarily religion, but the deep myths of the region which are untapped in global popular culture,” he says.
We know there is power in the myths of different regions. It’s just a matter of expressing them in new and wonderful ways that are accessible to the rest of the world.