Category Archives: Transmedia

Marketing and Storytelling

Are marketers storytellers? Are storytellers marketers?

I’m inclined to think that writing and marketing skills do not inherently go hand-in-hand, and for a storyteller to master the art of marketing, he or she has to make a concerted effort to do it. The same should go for a marketer who wants to tell a good story.

The idea for this conversation came when I read the following comment on Andrea Phillips’ “Transmedia Is Not Marketing” blog:

Marketers are not by nature storytellers (no matter what their bios say). And I think the same can be said of storytellers as they are just at the forefront of understanding marketing and how to link storytelling meaningfully back to the core values of a brand.

This, of course, appeared in a discussion about transmedia storytelling, a fair amount of which serves to market something. People can get the mistaken impression that all transmedia is simply a marketing tactic and nothing else. It is true that the storytellers of ARGs or transmedia experiences sometimes have to wear a marketing hat, or transmedia marketers sometimes have to don storytelling caps, whichever you want to say.

However, as Ms. Phillips points out, this is not the full extent or even the true purpose of every transmedia experience. Sometimes the transmedia story supports itself, for example.

Of course I also recognize the lasting importance of grassroots games. However, if a game is only there for the fun of it, then the question of marketing becomes less pressing than it is for those who hope to pay the bills with their work.  🙂

I think this is an important topic for transmedia writers as well as traditional writers. Is a storyteller necessarily good at marketing? Is a marketer necessarily a strong storyteller? I can’t tell you how many traditional writers I know who have bemoaned the pressure they feel to be their own promotion agents. “I don’t have time to tweet and Facebook and blog every day,” they tell me. “I’m too busy writing.”

The other day, I stole some time from my own writing schedule to ask about this on Facebook.  🙂  Here are some excerpts from the responses I got:

Robert Cunha: “Marketers are telling you the story of their product (sometimes with a bit of fiction) and are trying to hook you into their story… Storytellers are marketers if they wish for their story to be heard. They’re selling their thoughts and trying to make it enticing enough for you to want to read past the first page.”

Mike Pynn: “Good marketing that tells a story:
… professional storytelling often employs some of the most interesting, narrative marketing of all. This is, of course, super-true in the ARG world.”

Lori Pollard-Johnson: “Honestly, I don’t market Toxic Torte at all. I’ve been told that participating/promoting on the amazon forums helps, but I’ve been too busy during the school year to do it. Sales doubled the second month and rose 250% the third month.”

Christopher Greif: “I do very little marketing with my earth friendly lawn & pest control. Most of my business comes to me through referrals from happy customers. I have 80 solid customers right now I would like to get up to 200 and stay there for a bit. I did find out the yellow pages and yellow book are a waste of money. Pretty much anything paper can go away.”

and Jacki King: “In this day and age, you have to be both (if you have any intentions of making lasting money at the endeavor)… if you’re not looking for the financial gain, then you can have the luxury of choosing not to market… Of course, no one knows exactly what combo to put together for optimal success…different things work at different times, and it’s not the same for every project…”

Perhaps the question is not whether we are qualified at the on-set to market our stories or to tell stories with our marketing. Perhaps the question is whether we should become qualified. Or is it better to leave these two worlds separate?

Violent Gaming

Game designer Jane McGonigal appeared today on a radio broadcast about how gaming can change the world. Partway through that broadcast, a caller informed her that “I’m a professor and there are more than 100 studies linking violent videogames to real-life violence.”

McGonigal tweeted about this, asking followers for links to these studies. I’d like to see the studies, too.

Now, I’m no quantitative researcher on the psychological effects of gaming. But I am a video gamer. I’m also a pacifist. I’m also friends with many other video gamers — all of them either pacifists or wholly uninterested in leading violent lives.

That, of course, is only my personal experience.

However, to say that people who play video games are likely to behave violently is like saying that children who read Harry Potter are likely to jump off their roofs on a broomstick. … I’ve heard that argument several times.

Are we unable to tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction? Do we automatically do what we see our favorite characters doing? This seems like an important conversation to have, actually, as what McGonigal creates are not so much video games as they are transmedia experiences: her own version of alternate reality games. The line between fiction and nonfiction gets a bit blurred in ARGs.

By the way, it should be noted that McGonigal generally makes non-violent transmedia experiences for people to play. In fact, much of her work is aimed at improving the way people interact with each other and the world in real life. See her totally cool “Gaming can make a better world” talk here.



So, what do you think? Do games change the world for the better? For the worse? Not at all? Is there a line that game creators should not cross when it comes to depictions of violence, or is it up to us to know the difference between right and wrong?

ControlTV and @tristancouvares

This is going to seem pretty strange, but as I write today, I’m also watching a total stranger wander around a house in LA, text messaging and using the computer.

ControlTV is Seth Green‘s experimental reality Internet TV project, where a person named Tristan Couvares will live for six weeks at the mercy of the viewers. How does that work? Easy. We get to vote on what he does.  🙂

Today’s the first day, and it’s just like any other reality TV… boring but oddly relaxing and fun, if you like that kind of thing — which I do. I can’t explain why things like this entertain me. This show is easy to have on in the background without being too distracting, and it provides a completely ridiculous bit of fun to my day.

It’s also fascinating to watch it come together. Today has been buggy and confusing — the site got overloaded at one point and went down –, and that’s part of the excitement. Will they be able to pull it off? If they do, will this create a new genre of web shows where people simply stream live from their own homes all day long? What will that mean for the future of web television?

As an indie, transmedia storyteller, I’m interested in where we get our entertainment. Things like this remind me of what we do with our ARGs: we often strive to make them feel both genuine and fake at the same time. Tristan’s show is not real. His inability to go to lunch until someone tells him what to do, or his restriction against saying name brands out loud proves that. But it’s also much more real than we’re used to seeing on normal or Internet television. Nothing is scripted. Most of the time he’s just wandering around, wondering what to do.

Is it an exercise in sociology? Is it stretching our storytelling boundaries? Is it really pointless and dull? Let’s keep watching to see where it goes.  🙂

Into the Woods

The Pistolsniffers went to the woods this past weekend. Check out our awesome campfire!

It was a great bonding experience for us all – when do smores fail? – but also, of course, it was a working trip for the team. More on that when the time comes.  🙂

Apart from battling insects and a bear (well, we didn’t do battle so much as cower when we heard the bear wandering around near our chairs), we also encountered one massive and artistically talented spider.

Photo taken by Rob Cunha

Welcome to Florida’s forests.

It’s pretty invigorating to be outside in the fresh air. Perfect place to get some great ideas.

Where do you go for inspiration?

ARG Documentary

Pistolsniffer Industries spent the weekend working with Jeromy Barber on a new documentary that follows the creation and progress of three different transmedia experiences (one of them ours). Check out the post on Remix Fiction for more!

Next game update

If you’re waiting for news about our upcoming game, be sure to check out Mike’s blog. He has some tidbits to share.  🙂


So… have you been to the new website?

If you follow our alternate reality games, you already know my creative team as Funnel Productions. While that name is nice and has grown quite dear to us over time, it isn’t particularly unique or specific to our group. Because of that, we’ve been planning a name change for a while. It was a tough call to make when we decided to step away from the Funnel name, but we think this new title is much more… us.  🙂

So it’s official! Our new website is up, and we’re going forward as Pistolsniffer Industries, owned by a fictional character of Mike’s creation, Winston T. Pistolsniffer. We hope you enjoy.