Annenberg Innovation Lab provides students opportunity to explore transmedia branding

Posted April 21, 2013


Jerried Williams
M.A. in Strategic Public Relations

Recently I had the opportunity to “move fast and break things” in the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s (AIL) Transmedia Branding: Think & Do workshop led by AIL Research Fellows and USC Annenberg professors Burghardt Tenderich and Susan Resnick West. 

The day began with a simple question. What are the design and ethical principles that should shape branding in a transmedia environment?

The proliferation of digital platforms has empowered users to share content with ease and remix them along the way. This has sparked the rise of a new model to connect with customers and fans -- transmedia branding. Transmedia branding is loosely defined as a system of packaging a brand into a narrative that communicates across participatory channels, with the story and the media content morphing and developing as consumers and others enter the discussion. 

Transmedia branding is a derivative of transmedia storytelling, a process where integral elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels to create a unified and coordinated experience. Each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. Henry Jenkins, the head advisor to the AIL and co-author of the book titledSpreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture, developed the idea of transmedia storytelling. It was exciting to have him participate in the workshop since his work laid the foundation for research in transmedia branding. 

Throughout the workshop, we applied the Think & Do methodology to come up with new insights about ways to connect with consumers through transmedia branding. The workshop featured a full day of discussion, play, and high-speed creativity. 

It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by so many innovators and thought leaders from both the industry and the academic world. Gareth Hornberger, Levi’s senior manager in global digital marketing, Mark Warshaw, Chief Transmedia Officer and co-founder of The Alchemists Transmedia Storytelling Company, and Grant McCracken, the author of Chief Culture Officer and Culturematic, were among the more than 35 invited guests to participate in the workshop. 

The importance of the Think and Do methodology to the cultivation of ideas and principles became increasingly apparent as the day progressed. During a town hall style discussion moderated by Henry Jenkins, we came up with a list of game changers that would impact transmedia branding within the next five years. 

Game changers included: 

  1. No ownership, no privacy
  2. Massive data collection
  3. The death of corporate silos
  4. Weakened value of brand continuity
  5. Massive remixing of content
  6. The proliferation/saturation of emotional connections

Following the discussion, the attendees split up into groups and created a variety of transmedia campaigns with the game changers in mind. We based our campaigns on the following subjects: the former-planet Pluto, the color beige, the emotion rage, the chemical element strontium, and the phenomenon of thunder. The campaigns that everyone came up with provided immensely valuable insights into the process and principles of transmedia branding. 

Attendees had a nearly universal understanding that user-generated content is an essential part of transmedia branding. In addition, we decided that the involvement of consumers and fans goes far beyond participation and extends into the world of creation and sharing. 

The idea of ownership was another underlying current, but this topic led to more questions than answers. Questions posed included: Who owns user-generated content? Is there a collective ownership? How does this impact the privacy of the consumers and fans involved?

This gave rise to an even larger question. Given that we are operating in an ambiguous space and extremely volatile environment, what are the risks to reputation and how does one manage that risk?

I learned a lot throughout the workshop, and I am excited about the research that will continue through the newly founded transmedia branding research group. The group is led by Burghardt Tenderich, and it will explore how the principles of transmedia storytelling and other types of transmedia motives (such as transmedia play and transmedia mobilization) can apply to branding. 

In the research group, I will join four other MSPR students (Alec Boyle, Katherine Lewin, Yijie Liu, and Andres Munt) to come up with a new strategic framework for producing innovating ways to more effectively use key technology and cultural convergence trends in the 21st century media industry landscape. 

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