Transmedia Storytelling? How ARGs are the Future of Marketing

Marketing in the 20th and 21st centuries has gradually accepted new forms of communication, although the industry has hardly embraced a more risqué approach to mixed media marketing.

Enter alternative reality games (ARGs for the layman).

ARGs, or transmedia storytelling as some might call them, are interactive narratives that use the real world as a storytelling platform whilst incorporating other media and game mechanics to tell a story. And they may quite possibly be the future of marketing.

Kelley Executive Partners director of emerging technologies Dr. Sarah Robbins believes ARGs will play a large part in interactive advertising. “ARGs are the most extreme application of the mobile advertising spectrum. They are the most engaging platform, and they use a lot of different technologies,” she said.

Robbins got to make her case at ARGFest-O-Con 2011, held at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus last week. The conference was attended by a conclave of geeks and storytelling aficionados who got to hear about the commercial prospects for this nascent storytelling mechanism.

Executives from Coca-Cola North and West Africa recently requested the KEPs’ help in finding marketing solutions for their region and Dr. Robbins devised a game to convince them of the potential for ARGs.

The game itself was part treasure hunt, part puzzle solving, and required the Coca Cola suits to traverse the streets of Bloomington using their smart phones, wits and knowledge to come up with the solution.

“The game allowed the Coke participants to reflect on their strategies as a team. They could cooperate or compete. They could allow one person to do all the work or share the burden based on their skills,” explained Robbins.

The Beast loves Bees

ARGs themselves are not a new phenomenon and have been around since the turn of the century. One of the most notable games, perhaps partly responsible for starting the trend, was the ARG that was released leading up to Steven Spielberg’s A.I:Artificial Intelligence, called The Beast. The “game” took place in an alternate reality set in the future of the movie and could be accessed via clues that were embedded in the promotional artwork and trailers for the movie.

Similarly, I love Bees was an ARG used to promote the release of Halo 2 in 2004. Participants accessed this game by noticing subliminal messaging in the trailer of the game that lead them to a Web site, and the rest is history.

At this point there are several alternate reality games going online that mostly function as promotional and viral marketing stunts for games and movies. Getting access to them requires a little research and willingness to cooperate with others.

But they have entered the zeitgeist and storytellers and media savvy individuals can definitely look forward to new games and experiences for our favorite products and media.

Siya Africa I spent several years studying politics and journalism in South Africa before working in the media industry there. Whilst taking photographs of Nelson Mandela and writing about celebrities visiting the "Mother Land" I decided to make my way to the States, in 2009, and have been a grad student at IU ever since. All your tweets belong to me (courtesy of Julia Roy). Twitter: @siyaafrica

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