Major Case Studies

Oleksiy Mark/

Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media provides the building blocks for developing a marketing and content plan for your transmedia project. It’s valuable to apply that insight through appreciation and inspiration – by examining other media and entertainment projects’ odysseys.

The book provides five exceptional in-depth case studies from entertainment and media, each telling a different story and showcasing a different content creation or marketing approach.  

Inspired by exclusive interviews with their creators, the cases include:

  • The captivation of cooperative tribal audiences in both fictional and real worlds through Steven Spielberg’s film A.I. Artificial Intelligence’s alternate reality game
  • The branding stand-out of TV drama, Mad Men, inspired by the mini-story in its title sequence
  • The modern digital Jane Austen adaptation, Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ holistic narrative, told on multiple digital platforms
  • The fully-socialized and interactive audience experience of reality program, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
  • The book also includes a macro case study of critical content and marketing techniques in action woven throughout the book as an overall teaching tool, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues– a project co-led by the author, Anne Zeiser.

These case studies share common winning characteristics. They:

  • Engage the audience directly and emotionally with the story, characters, or universe
  • Create unique content on multiple media platforms to advance the story and market the project
  • Integrate the story and marketing elements into a holistic audience experience

The complete compelling case studies of the below synopsized properties are included in Chapter 31, “Transmedia Marketing Case Studies” of Transmedia Marketing.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence’s “The Beast” — Participatory Tribal Audiences

The genre-defining entertainment ARG for Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, harnessed audiences’ collective intelligence to uncover a mystery involving humans and A.I.s set in a future universe. A narrative of content and clues distributed across the physical and digital world, “The Beast” was an anthropological case study on audience –understanding their motivations to act, examining the cause and effect of their interactions with various content, and witnessing their will to create a hive mind.

Courtesy of Jordan Weisman; Licensed by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The two “rabbit holes” placed in the A.I. poster: the telephone number coded in hash marks on “Summer 2001” and the Sentient Machine Therapist film credit for Jeanine Salla in the credit block

When Jordan Weisman, the creative director for Microsoft Entertainment, described his transmedia game idea to Steven Spielberg for his upcoming film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg may not have understood the meaning of transmedia, but he fundamentally understood the value of the kind of audience experience Weisman envisioned. Spielberg saw it as the sequel to his film about artificial intelligence and human longings. Not only did this groundbreaking distributive narrative experience, dubbed an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), advance its own story within the futuristic A.I. universe, but it also created exposure and audience appetite for the film. “The Beast” was a seminal experiment in Weisman’s dogged pursuit of the entertainment triangle of story, socialization, and game playing that spawned a new media genre and a new way of interacting with audiences.

Weisman’s big idea was a massively multi-player storytelling experience that was an extension of the role-playing dynamic — worldwide audiences collaboratively finding and telling a story from atomic story pieces. In this distributive narrative, the team would write the story — a Web-based murder mystery involving humans, robots, and a variety of other A.I. forms. They would place story assets or evidence across the physical and digital world for audience members to find, allowing them to collaborate online in the mystery solving game and storytelling experience.

And they created all this content under a veil of secrecy to enable audiences curious about this Kubrick-cum-Spielberg film to unravel the story in bits, become willingly and deeply immersed in the fictional universe, and culminate the experience by attending the film. “The Beast’s” creators, the Puppetmasters, couldn’t have imagined the audiences’ reaction and the extraordinary lengths they would go to participate. And audiences couldn’t have imagined their unique relationship with the creators.

When I was doing “The Beast” I needed a term to define what we were doing -- we were telling a story in a different way. And what transmedia meant to me when I originally coined it was this concept of a fragmented story. You’re touching the elements of a story and you’re breaking them up into atomic bits and you’re spreading those bits across this huge spectrum of media, but focusing largely on the forms of communication we use for our daily lives. And, then the audience would gather those together and tell the story to themselves and each other through the assembly of the fragments. This idea of fragmented storytelling and the counting on a giant hive mind, a giant collective to assemble seemed like it needed a new name.

-- Jordan Weisman, transmedia pioneer, Founder of 42 Entertainment and other innovative entertainment companies, Creator of A.I.’s “The Beast”

They saw us watching them. That was a really validating moment to feel like someone saw you caring about them. And they cared that you cared.

-- Andrea Phillips, transmedia creator; moderator, “The Beast” Cloudmakers; producer, Perplex City

“The Beast” exercised many new muscles for creators and audiences alike. It expressed and fed a holistic, transmedia content creation and content consumption impulse; it blended the story world’s fictional and the players’ non-fiction universes; it integrated online and offline experiences; it assumed and welcomed audiences’ intelligence and creative talent; and it banked on their cooperative, tribal behavior.

See the complete case study of this property in Chapter 31, “Transmedia Marketing Case Studies” of Transmedia Marketing

Mad Men — Branding the American Dream

Mad Men’s opening title sequence about the high-gloss world of advertising after WWII, graphically telegraphs Don Draper’s surface glamour and control and hidden deception and devolution. In the dreamlike open he loses control and falls off his metaphorical high tower. It resolves on the final seen-from-behind black and white silhouetted frame of the cypher of a man, inspiring the series’ brand-defining key art and marketing.

Stills taken from Mad Men; Provided through the courtesy of Lionsgate

The signature final silhouetted shot of Mad Men’s title sequence, which drove the series’ branding and marketing materials.

The branding for the Emmy award-winning Mad Men, some of the most distinctive and stylized creative work in television, was not an accident — not if Matthew Weiner had anything to do with it. And Weiner’s artistic vision and attention to detail had a lot to do with it. Weiner had been incubating the series about the halcyon years of the post-WWII advertising industry for a very long time and tenaciously pursued a network for the drama he believed in. To Weiner, the period in US history from the late 1950s through the early 1970s spoke volumes about past, present, and future life in the US. HBO and Showtime passed on it, but eventually he sold 13 episodes of Mad Men to AMC, a network with no successful original programming to date.

So in 2007, the untested period drama with unknown actors needed a brand and a look. Mad Men’s creator Weiner had a clear vision, not only for what the series was about, but also how to communicate it. Mad Men was a reflection of an era that sold the American Dream, but Draper, as a stand-in for many other Americans, was confused by what that truly meant and how to genuinely find himself within that dream. It was the irony of this man’s success at hawking happiness, while struggling to find a modicum of his own that Weiner wanted to communicate. That and the inner conflict of this Madison Avenue boys’ club, who were doting suburban family men on weekends, and hard-drinking, chain-smoking, and philandering rakes during the week.

Imaginary Forces’ creative directors Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller were tasked with creating an open using Weiner’s concept of a man walking into an office and jumping out the window, which echoed the series’ complexity, emotion and core themes. The creative directors chose the power and mystery of a black and white silhouetted man, in his office and falling downward through a labyrinth of buildings with multiple POV shots. The sequence resolved on a signature, seated silhouette of an enigmatic Draper, in control, holding a burning cigarette. That final shot sealed the deal for Weiner. And, it carried the series’ key art and marketing strategy of mystery.

He essentially didn’t even know who he was …he was a conflicted character. We wanted to show everybody that on the surface he’s very in control, a very confident person, but is living a lie.

-- Mark Gardner, creative director, SYPartners (former creative director, Imaginary Forces)

I think that the way Mad Men drips out limited information is pretty masterful. It has a tremendous effect of creating a desire and sense of excitement about it.

-- James Poniewozik, chief television critic, New York Times; formerly senior writer, television critic, Time magazine

The silhouette and falling man opener for Mad Men found the answer to the untested series’ biggest communications problem: how to market a period show about marketing.

Instead, it marketed a show about the universal and current themes of conflict and human frailties. It told a mini-story that set up the larger story and themes; it established a visual style that communicated an earlier era, but still felt modern; it distilled complex stories and meaning down to a distinctive, bold graphic imagery that supported an entire brand; and it sustained multi-year marketing campaigns with the iconic power of its visual language.

See the complete case study of this property in Chapter 31, “Transmedia Marketing Case Studies” of Transmedia Marketing

Lizzie Bennet Diaries – Perspective Storytelling

In the 2013 Emmy Award-winning modern day adaptationof Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet Diaries unfolded bi-weekly via Lizzie Bennet’s YouTube vlogs along with three other characters’ on-camera appearances. The story also advanced in real time on additional characters’ social media channels, adding other storytelling POVs. The audience seized the growing social storyline – interacting directly with the characters and influencing the story.

Lizzie Bennet Diaries/YouTube

Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ primary transmedia platform, Lizzie Bennet’s personal YouTube account.

When Bernie Su, a screenwriter with a knack for writing short-format online creative narrative, met entrepreneur and blogger Hank Green at an event in March of 2011, he was about to redefine transmedia storytelling. Green asked Su whether it was possible to adapt a book into a vlog or a YouTube series – not simply chopping a film into 50 pieces, but rather breaking the fourth wall and allowing audiences to participate. Green wanted to create a modern, interactive version of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, about Elizabeth Bennet and her three unmarried and fortuneless sisters in nineteenth-century England, who encounter wealthy bachelors Charles Bingley and his awkward friend, William Darcy. Through a complicated maze of social misunderstandings, secrets, and protection of sisters’ honor, Elizabeth and Darcy’s love is thwarted, but, in the end, found.

So the co-creators, along with Pemberley Digital staff, developed Lizzie Bennet Diaries, on YouTube vlog episodes and across other media platforms including Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. The primary media platform was the personal YouTube channel of 24-year-old grad student LizzieBennet. In the first person, she chronicled the travails of school pressures, a mountain of debt, living at home, and a paltry love life, while her best friend Charlotte Lu ran camera. There she regularly revealed her passive-aggressive feelings for her love interest, William Darcy.

Over the course of a year, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries team posted about two, two- to eight-minute episodes per week. The complex story unfolded in real time, enhanced by additional characters’ Twitter chatter about recent meals, trips, or flirtations — expanding the story universe and the storytelling perspectives. As more audiences followed the story on the various digital platforms, they interacted with the characters and reacted to the plot, even the minutest of story elements. Because of the advance online video rolling production model, Su and the team could respond to the audience through plot points and the creation of characters’ spin-off channels.

In transmedia multi-platform storytelling you create a great story world and surround the simple narrative with other great content. So, it’s out there if you want to consume it as a user. You can go on Lizzie Bennet’s personal YouTube channel and click “play.” And, if you want to dive deeper, you click around. You click on Lizzie’s Twitter and see who she’s talking to. You click on Lydia’s YouTube channel and see what she’s doing when Lydia and Lizzie are sharing the same room together. You can even see what Gigi’s doing ten months before she actually appears on screen.

-- Bernie Su, storyteller and head writer, Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Lizzie Bennet Diaries invited all audiences into the tent, whether they sought a linear or a fully-immersive experience. The transmedia project explored the boundaries of perspective storytelling using multiple platforms to present different characters’ POVs; it authentically told the story in real time with real-world platforms; it engaged and interacted directly with its audience ambassadors; and it responded to their reactions, allowing them to shape storylines and character development. Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ 100 episodes — six and one-half hours — are at

See the complete case study of this property in Chapter 31, “Transmedia Marketing Case Studies” of Transmedia Marketing

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo “Watch ’n’ Sniff” Premiere Event — Socialized Talent and Content

For the launch of Season 2 of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, TLC capitalized on the social currency of the reality program and the redneck celebrity of unconventional child beauty contestant, Alana and her family. The cabler’s interactive promotion for the premiere brought the 360° experience of the family’s story universe directly to audiences, fully integrating the TV-viewing and social media experiences.

© TLC/George Lange

Instructions for the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Watch ’n’ Sniff interactive experience.

If you’ve seen Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, even for a brief moment, then you’ve witnessed the tour de force personality of a child who at the age of six launched a hit reality television show, became a popular culture phenomenon, and established a successful business franchise. The TLC reality TV program Here Comes Honey Boo Boo emerged out of Alana and her family’s appearance on a child beauty pageant circuit reality show. As the pint-sized, outspoken, and untraditional beauty contestant unapologetically doled out her down-home-Georgia, tell-it-like-it-is axioms such as “a dollar makes me holler” and gulped her “Go-Go Juice” recipe of Mountain Dew and Red Bull, it was obvious that Alana was a stand-out.

So, in early 2012, TLC created Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which followed “Honey Boo Boo’s” outrageous and spontaneous family. TLC fully embraced the family’s unique Southern redneck vernacular and way of life. What may have begun as voyeurism of a junk-food-hoarding, gas-passing, and don’t-give-a-damn circus act, soon became an audience love affair with a genuinely caring family that was refreshing and fun to watch.

When the second season débuted in July of 2013, TLC has an understanding of how to keep its audience of 18-to-49-year-old women engaged. Their goal: to signal that the new season was more outrageous than ever and bring them into the family’s crazy lifestyle.

The unique sights, sounds, and smells of Alana and her family became the perfect wink-wink nod-nod opportunity to kick off the season’s double-stacked premiere. TLC’s marketing team created an interactive Here Comes Honey Boo Boo World Premiere Watch ’n’ Sniff Event, integrating on-air and off-air content and assets hat mined the program’s quirky and social factor. The 9 million 5 X 7 Watch ’n’ Sniff cards and digital content allowed viewers to get a whiff of what was happening on air by releasing six scents correlating to specific scenes in the premiere. Its instructions on how to watch, scratch, and sniff tracked with Alana’s on-screen appearances in a bubble smelling and reacting to the smell, prompting audiences, “Smell number one.”  

The Watch ’n’ Sniff promotion and its steady stream of digestible content blew up on the social networks, driving social participation and viewership.

If there ever was a show that we wanted to put a smell into, it would be Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. We had to go through the show bit by bit and identify moments that we could put a smell to. For instance, the train going by could smell like diesel. The barbecued ribs were awful smoky. Was there a fart smell? What about pleasant smells like Baby Kaitlyn who smelled like baby powder, and a vanilla cupcake?

-- Rose Stark, VP marketing, TLC

We ask our audience to connect with these “characters” — these real people — and engage with them and welcome them into their homes. To make that personal connection, you have to go where that audience is, where they’re communicating, and how they’re connecting, and that’s through social media. It’s the modern water cooler.

-- Dustin Smith, VP Communications, TLC

All of TLC’s promotional activities acknowledged Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s brand archetype, The Regular Guy. The Watch ’n’ Sniff event listened carefully to the target audience and mined the series “hot” topics; paid off on the brand archetype by using humor; invited audiences directly into the Honey Boo Boo universe; and created interactive and socialized content that integrated on-air and off-air experiences. And in a time-shifting world, the promotion made Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s premiere must see and must smell live TV.

See the complete case study of this property in Chapter 31, “Transmedia Marketing Case Studies” of Transmedia Marketing.

Prometheus — Blending Fictional and Real Worlds

The team for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus developed a system of highly immersive digital elements and ARG experiences that penetrated audience’s real worlds. These participatory experiences engaged audiences in the film’s mysterious story universe, creating intense interest in and speculation about the film leading up to its release.

2/28/12 TEDTalk screenshot/

A young Peter Weyland gives a TED Talk in 2023, providing backstory on the secret mission of the future in Prometheus.

Serving as both story and marketing, the fictional online pre-campaign for Ridley Scott’s 2012 film, Prometheus created an immersive and expansive story world around the film that audiences could experience as a community. The individual pieces of digital content – from videos, high-resolution art, and Web site – carefully teased the secretive project, going viral among a small, but dedicated clan of sci-fi buffs and devotees of Scott’s earlier films, Alien and Blade Runner, turning them into superfan ambassadors and co-marketers.

Creative firm, Ignition developed this digital transmedia campaign by activating live-event, video, online, and social media for 20th Century Fox. The campaign needed to break through because Prometheus was up against a crowded field of franchises based on well-known heroes, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers, targeting similar audiences.

The key release strategy, which Scott helped create, was to keep the 3-D film Prometheus shrouded in mystery (leveraging the wide speculation that it was a prequel to Alien) and release content in tidbits to ratchet up levels of awareness, engagement, and mystery. All content in the campaign was designed to keep audiences asking more questions, fueling speculation about whether the film took place on a distant planet or a derelict space ship. By the time the traditional marketing campaign of posters, trailers, and advertising hit there would be heightened enthusiasm among passionate fans that would spill over to those broader audiences.

Open-ended questions are one of the most effective ways to engage and create conversation. That idea was at the heart of the Prometheus strategy. Beyond the story, beyond everything else.  So, the goal was to get people to keep asking questions by giving them a drip-feed of content that created more questions.

-- Chris Eyerman, creative director 3AM; formerly executive creative director of digital, Ignition; Prometheus, Hunger Games, Arrested Development

All those pieces were designed around things people are interested in already. People love TED Talks, so you should do something around TED Talks. People are always interested in the latest thing that Apple’s going to launch or Facebook’s going to launch, around a new technology product hence, so take that idea and premiere a new technology product for Prometheus (David 8) through Mashable. It about taking the tactics and things people are already doing in culture and social and designing your story to take shape around those things. That’s what was very different about this campaign.

-- Chris Eyerman, creative director 3AM; formerly executive creative director of digital, Ignition; Prometheus, Hunger Games, Arrested Development

Prometheus created an integrated experience that immersed audiences in the story from the get-go. The campaign blended the story’s fictional universe with the audience’s real world by leveraging real-life events and assets; it shaped the stream of content leading up to the film into a prequel narrative; it created a sense of mystery around the film, amplifying the teaser approach of the traditional marketing materials; and, it blended the story and its promotion into a single storytelling enterprise.

See the complete bonus case study of this property with the link below

Prometheus Case Study

Key links for 20th Century Fox’ Prometheus feature film and marketing campaign: