Transmedia Storytelling for Social Marketers: A Sample Campaign

Lately, I’ve been talking about transmedia storytelling to whoever will listen. If you’re not familiar with this approach, transmedia refers to a story that is told on multiple media platforms, with different parts of the story appearing in different places. The readers/viewers may enter the story at various points, and may need to solve puzzles or follow clues to discover the different nodes of the story. Transmedia is different from multimedia, which would be a retelling of the same story told using different media (e.g., a movie, a graphic novel, an audiobook). Beyond using transmedia for the sheer joy of telling a story, this approach is now often used to promote television shows and movies, as well as marketing products. Want to try out a quick example of a transmedia story in action? No Mimes Media has created a 10-minute alternate reality game (ARG) you can experience online. (Hint: Look for clues to get to each of the next parts of the story and keep your phone nearby.)

Why Use Transmedia in Social Marketing?

For all the reasons that the entertainment education approach works to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, transmedia storytelling has the potential to match and exceed that success. Entertainment education-based social marketing has traditionally focused on “product placement” of health and social issues within the plotlines of television shows, radio serials, movies, video games and other individual media. When someone is wrapped up in the plotline of a show and their favorite character becomes sick or models a positive behavior, that person is more likely to remember information delivered in the course of the program and desire to act on it.

In a transmedia story, you are immersed in the plotline either as the main character or as you get to know the characters and their world from many different angles. Often, transmedia stories are told in real-time, with the characters posting to their Twitter accounts, writing blog posts and creating YouTube videos. They may come to feel like friends, especially if the audience is encouraged to interact with the characters. This type of immersive experience can make a strong impression on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of social norms, and can motivate action.

What Might Have Been

Transmedia is one of those things more easily understood with a tangible example, so I spent some time thinking about how I might structure a campaign. I remembered that a couple of years ago, as part of the Great California ShakeOut (a statewide earthquake drill), the event included a simulation game called After Shock that did not quite live up to its great potential. The idea was that during and after the earthquake drill, participants would use blogs, Twitter, video, photos and more to document what happened to them personally during the “earthquake” and how they were dealing with the aftermath. It was a fun, exciting idea, and I played along, startling my Twitter friends and posting to the blog on my account at the site. Many others did as well, with blog posts, photos of “earthquake rubble,” and other creative stories that showed they had thought through the implications of how an earthquake would impact their lives. Unfortunately, there was not much direction from the coordinators as to what we were supposed to do, and participation fizzled. (At least from my viewpoint, I didn’t see much happening on the site and did not receive any clear instructions to help me continue.)

What’s Shakin’? Earthquake Preparedness Transmedia Campaign

I’ve put together a sample transmedia campaign that addresses the flaws of what After Shock could have been, with the goal of motivating earthquake preparedness in Southern California. I was inspired by Gary Hayes’ transmedia worksheet (below) and the creativity of Luci Temple’s hypothetical transmedia case study based on the television show “V.”


What’s a campaign without objectives? Here are the main ones I’d be shooting for:

  • To increase the number of people who know what to do to prepare for an earthquake.
  • To increase the number of people who know what to do during and immediately after an earthquake.
  • To increase the number of people who believe that being prepared is important and doable.
  • To increase the number of people who create a family emergency plan.
  • To increase the number of people who have an earthquake/emergency kit in their homes, offices and cars.
  • To increase the number of people who take preventive measures to secure their homes to prevent damage during an earthquake.


In transmedia storytelling, the story narrative is often in the background or not visible at all. Designers must write the backstory and timeline, and then identify the “artifacts” (tweets, postcards, YouTube videos, etc.)  that the characters create as a result of that story. It’s often up to the participants to piece together exactly what happened, and where they might need to read between the lines.

Here’s the basic narrative of a possible storyline (yes, it’s kind of silly), and afterward we’ll look at how the transmedia campaign could bring it into being:

Shaky McShakerson works in downtown LA as an IT guy in the City’s Bureau of Important Processes. He’s married to Terra McShakerson, who works out of their house in Sherman Oaks as a photographer specializing in doggie fashion. They have two kids – Tembla (4) and Shaker Jr (1).

10:36 am Tuesday morning, a 7.7 earthquake hits LA, centered in Hollywood. Shaky’s at work – he has to help out with the city’s response. Terra is at a doggie fashion shoot in Pasadena. Tembla is at preschool and Shaker Jr. is with Terra’s mother in Van Nuys.

Shaky and Terra can’t connect with each other via phone. They had no plan for emergencies and have no idea what condition their home is in. The immediate aftermath of the earthquake is chaos: a 405 freeway overpass is down, traffic lights are out across the city, they can see smoke from several locations in the distance. Finally they are able to connect with each other via Twitter, but Terra still can’t reach her mom or the preschool.

Shaky is part of the emergency response and is responsible for setting up a blog to keep people informed through official channels. He can’t leave his post downtown, so Terra is on her own.

Terra jumps in the car and tries to move as quickly as she can from Pasadena to Van Nuys. She runs into many roadblocks along the way. Finally she arrives at her mother’s house, which is intact, although several houses on the street have collapsed chimneys and broken windows. She sees that her mother and Shaker Jr are fine, but she needs to get to Tembla. She arrives at the preschool and sees that it is in shambles. Everyone has been evacuated and parents are freaking out looking for their kids. Finally someone remembers to call the emergency out of state phone number that was given at the beginning of the year and they find out that the teachers brought the kids to the elementary school yard down the street. She collects Tembla, who is very upset and traumatized.

She takes the children back home, and discovers that their house did not fare very well. Gas is leaking, and it takes a long time for her to find a wrench and the shut-off valve. The house is full of broken glass, the floor is covered with what had been on the shelves, and the furniture has traveled across the rooms. The electricity is out, and the water does not seem to be working either. Terra sets to work trying to figure out what she needs to do now and how to begin to recover.

The days and weeks that follow include some major aftershocks, anxiety attacks from Tembla, and the realization that they should have been much more prepared. They don’t have enough food, water and medical supplies. The city is not recovering very quickly. The survivalist neighbors who they always thought were crazy for storing months worth of food are the only ones on the block who are doing well. Terra’s best friend Florence is a nurse and shares stories of what she’s seen in the hospital.

Terra and Shaky decide to get prepared for the next disaster and put together their supplies. So when a 6.1 aftershock hits, they are ready and able to deal with it, and get on with their lives without much hassle.

The Transmedia Campaign

1) Billboards will be posted around the city for “Terra’s Doggie Fashion Fotos” including the URL (ads will be so ridiculous that people look for the website to see if it’s a joke). Also, street teams passing out postcards with the same image/URL at gathering places around LA.

2) A website for Terra’s business will include her phone number (with voice mail message) and links to her Facebook page and Twitter account. The text will use earthquake metaphors as clues for what the campaign is about and provide insight into her personality and lifestyle.

3) Terra’s Twitter account will be the main driver of the narrative (with tweets also going to her Facebook page), and here is where we will also meet Shaky and Florence via their accounts. Quite a bit of interaction will have already occurred before the campaign begins. When the earthquake hits, we can see Terra’s panicked response and her attempts to reach her family. She and Shaky reach each other via Twitter. She urges people to call her on her cell if they know anything about her mom and kids.

4) When people call her cell phone number, they’ll hear her message about what she’s seeing on the streets as she’s trying to get to her family and her relief as she arrives at her mother’s house. She uses Twitpic to post pictures of the damage she sees all around.

5) Meanwhile, Shaky is setting up a blog for his city department that provides updates on what’s happening around the city in terms of emergency response, as well as safety information. He invites people to post comments about what happened to them during the earthquake and whether they were prepared. He shares the “official” department website and phone hotline that people can call over the next week for updates.

6) Once back at home, Terra tweets about the challenges they are facing and looks for information on what to do to prevent any further damage. She finds a smartphone app and companion website (created by the campaign) with earthquake preparedness information and shares that information on Twitter.

7) Over the next week, Terra uses Twitter to give updates on what she’s doing to prepare for the next earthquake, and uploads some video to YouTube. She posts information about caring for pets in earthquakes on her business Facebook page. Shaky uses the blog to give tips on preparedness and to invite participants to a live event.

8) The campaign concludes with a live event coinciding with the Great California Shakeout, where Terra and Shaky make an appearance to urge earthquake preparedness (and to take doggy fashion fotos). Those with smartphones will be able to see a simulated aftershock in real time via augmented reality, to reinforce how to respond.

There are many more touchpoints we could add (e.g., TV, radio, live chat, etc.) but this gives you a flavor of how it might all work together. Of course, keep in mind that this approach can only work if members of your target audience are already using most or all of these media. You would need to do research with them to find out what media they use, and what their current knowledge, attitudes and behaviors are, before jumping into creating the campaign.

Any takers?

Some Transmedia Resources (Updated 6/30/10)

    Photo: chiaralily

    The Path to Health Marketing Collaboration

    When’s the last time someone wrote a superhero comic about people in your profession? Sure, if you’re a reporter, nuclear scientist or even a reclusive millionaire, you’re used to this type of thing. But we health marketing types are usually the ones on the development side of the media, not the target audience. So I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I was to discover that my longtime blog friend Fard Johnmar of Envision Solutions and the HealthCareVox blog has created both a fun set of different types of media to draw people like us in, and a more serious project that underlies it.

    His mission is to bring together people who work in health marketing communications across disciplines so we can learn from each other. He calls this the Path of the Blue Eye — a rather zen-sounding name with accompanying mantras that help us do our jobs more effectively.

    Fard graciously agreed to share more information about the origins of the project and its different components with my readers via an email interview:

    What spurred you to create the Path of the Blue Eye?

    I was motivated to develop the Path of the Blue Eye project in response to two statements, both of which begin with the words “I wish.” They are:

    • I wish I knew that.
    • I wish we had a place to collect this information.

    Over the years, I’ve learned about beneficial data, case studies and other info that would be useful to people across the health marketing communications industry. I often share my knowledge in conversations with pharma marketers, public health experts, social marketers and others. Many times, I find that people are not aware of interesting and successful campaigns taking place in industry segments they do not work in. For example, people in pharmaceutical marketing are sometimes not knowledgeable about campaigns launched by government agencies that leverage social technologies. After our conversations about sms services for small business, people will sometimes nod their heads and say: “I wish I knew that.”

    In addition, I have had many conversations about how we need a place where people can quickly and easily share information with their peers – especially with those working in other parts of the health marketing communications industry. They say: “I wish I we had a place to collect this information.”

    The Path of the Blue Eye project is designed to grant each of these wishes by:

    • Fostering knowledge sharing across health marketing communications industry segments and silos.
    • Providing people with tools they can use to quickly share interesting information with others working in the industry from around the world.

    The key word here is interdisciplinary. We are trying to reach across silos and centers of practice rather than working within them.

    How does this project fit in with the work you have been doing with Envision Solutions?

    The mission of Envision Solutions is to help health marketing communications pros become more efficient and successful. I think the Path of the Blue Eye project helps us to achieve this objective.

    Can you tell us about the different components of this project and how they fit together? How will you phase them in?

    The core of the project will be an online collaboration hub we are currently building. It will enable people in health marketing communications to:

    • Quickly access and share data, case studies, news articles, blog posts and other content relevant to the field.
    • Ask and answer questions from their peers.

    Currently we are the pre-launch phase of the project. We are leveraging the comic, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and other communications channels to spread the word about the project and attract a diverse group of people who believe in what we are trying to accomplish. I am happy to say that (as of this writing), nearly 80 people have “joined” the project via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. We launched Path of the Blue Eye about a week ago, so I’m very pleased with the progress thus far.

    In phase II, we will invite a select group of people to help us conduct a series of road tests on the collaboration hub to help us iron out any final kinks in the system. After this, we’ll launch the hub and begin our work in earnest.

    I’m also very excited that we’ve been able to develop some strong partnerships with prominent organizations and businesses over the last few months. They have agreed to help strengthen the hub by providing information to the Path of the Blue Eye community when it launches.

    How would you define the “Path of the Blue Eye?”

    The Path of the Blue Eye is represented in the comic by a series of six mantras. These represent habits and activities we believe will help people forging careers in the health marketing communications industry achieve success.

    Who are the main groups you’d like to reach and what are some of the ways people can become involved with this project?

    We are trying to reach a diverse range of people working in all areas of the global health marketing communications industry. Everyone is welcome, including social marketers, public relations professionals, advertisers, pharmaceutical/biotech marketers, public health communicators, academics and others.

    Given the current intense interest in social media it is important to note that the site wlll not be focused solely on social communications channels and techniques. Rather, we want people practicing in all areas of the field to feel comfortable participating in and contributing to the hub.

    Currently, people can participate in the project by:

    • Showing their support for the project by joining our Facebook group, Twitter community or signing up for our e-mail list.
    • Spreading the word about the project to their friends and colleagues.
    • Considering becoming contributing or guest authors on the project’s blog Walking the Path. We are looking to build a blog that features a diverse range of perspectives from people around the world. A few people have accepted our invitation to participate, but we are always looking for more authors. Currently, guest authors are helping to produce a series of blog posts focusing on what collaboration means to them.

    Once the hub launches, people will have other ways they can contribute to the project.

    I love the comic book! I’m sure it’s the first time that health marketers have been featured as superheroes. What was your thinking behind using this medium? Can we expect to see this as an ongoing series?

    I’m really glad you like the comic! I decided to commission the comic because I wanted to:

    o Create a mythology focusing on the work of health marketing communications pros. We are often behind the scenes, creating campaigns for others, so I wanted to celebrate what we do.
    o Attract a broad range of people to the project.
    o Encourage us to have fun and enjoy the work we do each day

    I also want to use the comic to expose more people in our industry to transmedia storytelling techniques. There’s a lot more going on with the comic than meets the eye, so I encourage people to dive deeper by participating in the SMS component of the project. Not many people have accepted our invitation yet, but I hope this changes in the coming weeks. I also hope people enjoy the comic’s soundtrack.

    I hope we’ll be able to produce future issues of the comic. If people want more we’ll continue the story.

    How would you like to see the Path of the Blue Eye evolve over time? What would it ideally look like five years from now?

    Ultimately, I’d like to see the project evolve into a strong, self-sustaining, diverse, interconnected global community of health marketing communications pros.

    Five years from now, I hope that the community will have become a go-to resource for people trying to improve their skills and develop better health marketing communications campaigns. We want to help people become better at what they do. If we achieve this, I think the project will be successful.

    I wish Fard great success with this project, and I am excited about being part of it as well. I hope you will also consider participating in some way, as the whole profession will benefit as more people get involved. We can all walk the path together, which makes getting over the hills much easier.

    Tune in Tomorrow: Soap Operas for Social Marketing

    Last week I attended a meeting at which Bill Ryerson, the founder of the Population Media Center (PMC), discussed his organization’s entertainment education work in the developing world. PMC, along with other organizations like Population Communications International (PCI) and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, creates soap operas in developing countries (excuse me, “serial dramas”) that are designed to bring about positive changes within those societies. Topics that are covered include health issues like HIV and family planning, as well as social issues like adult education, the role of women in society and child trafficking.

    PMC follows the Sabido Method, named for Mexican television producer Miguel Sabido, to develop the plotlines and structure of their programs. Back in the 1970s, Sabido brought together several behavioral, communication and learning theories to identify how to encourage positive behavior change via entertainment education. Most notably, social learning theory guides the development of characters who serve as positive and negative role models and illustrate the rewards and “punishments” that come from their behavioral choices.

    Transitional characters — who are designed to be the characters the audience members most identify with — waver between the old ways of life and new behaviors. They do not immediately adopt the new behaviors, and may even try and fail before succeeding, but as the audience watches these characters go through this transition they can learn how to do so in their own lives.

    Unlike American soap operas, which run indefinitely, these Sabido-style serial dramas generally run on television or radio for six months to a couple of years before reaching the conclusion of the storylines. In fact, in order to give the audience members sufficient time to form emotional bonds with the characters, they may provide 50 episodes of pure entertainment before introducing the social issues.

    Bill Ryerson noted that entertainment programs are so effective in getting people’s attention and bringing about change because of their emotional content. Emotion enhances memory (just think of how well you can remember what you were doing on 9/11/01 vs. 9/10/01). When people have an emotional response, they remember the situation to which they were responding. And the emotional bonds that the audience develops with the characters heighten their reactions to the messages in the program.

    A recent New Yorker article discusses this approach as it was being taught at a PCI training in Mexico:

    Dramas produced according to the “Sabido method”–his formula for mapping out the characters’ fates-have aired in a hundred countries, from Peru to Kenya and China. Some are large-scale television productions that cost up to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars per episode, with funding from U.S. AID or the United Nations, and some are seventy-five-dollar radio serials made by a local N.G.O. In 1992, a radio soap opera with a built-in AIDS-prevention message was produced in Tanzania with P.C.I.’s help. One region was cut off from the broadcast, and, after two years, researchers found that there were significant differences in condom use between that area and the rest of the country. Other studies have had similar results. Nevertheless, given the soap’s reputation as the poor woman’s recreational drug, the P.C.I. staff felt obliged to spend the first day of the workshop persuading health-care personnel to take the form seriously.

    “If they sense that the program is ‘educational,’ they’ll be gone in a second,” Enriqueta Valdez Curiel, a P.C.I. consultant, said at a conference session. Let’s say you want to make a show urging pregnant women to visit midwives. You write a story about Martha the midwife and the busy day she spends ministering to women in labor. That, Curiel said, is a public-service announcement. But give Martha a husband who wants her to quit her job, a daughter who accidentally becomes pregnant, or a village healer who attacks her-“Give her conflict and obstacles, lots of giros,” or twists of fate-and you have a soap opera.

    “These are characters who constantly find obstacles to overcome, but they keep on trying,” Curiel said.

    …In a typical soap opera, the heroine is subjected to an unfaithful husband, abduction, amnesia. She bears her fate bravely, but, to the dismay of feminist cultural critics, she waits for romance to redeem her and, too often, drifts back into a doomed marriage. In a Sabido soap, “you can’t just punish, punish, punish the good ones,” Curiel said, “or people will feel powerless to change.”

    But you can’t get rid of the love stories, either. The trick is to get a health message across while still producing a soap opera that anyone would want to watch–to integrate escapism and didacticism. Prenatal nutrition and oral-rehydration therapy are not the usual stuff of soap operas. But poverty has its own built-in giros: frustrated men, vulnerable women and children, and a very thin margin between stability and crisis. Developing nations are rich in melodrama, if one chooses to see them that way. In most of Mexico, for example, it’s all but impossible for women to get legal abortions, which makes for countless instructive story lines involving unwanted pregnancies, hasty marriages, and adultery.

    As Bill said, “No one wants to go home and listen to an AIDS soap opera.” That’s why for each country PMC works in, they do formative research with the target audience to find out what their key issues are. When they are working with the country’s Ministry of Health or other governmental agency, they make sure that all the values in the program are in synch with that government’s policies (i.e., related to AIDS prevention or family planning). They then create a “values grid” that leads to the definition of the characters. They figure out what types of values statements a character might make (e.g., “There’s no point in using contraception because it’s up to God to decide how many children I should have.” Or “Taking care of my family is the most important thing to me.”). They put together the characters with their values sets, and figure out how the characters will relate to each other. Only then do they determine the program’s plot. This process is quite intensive, and it takes them about 3 weeks to train writers in the Sabido method.

    So far, the Sabido method has only been used to develop programs outside of the United States (Read this article for more on PMC’s successes in applying this method in other countries.). In these countries, there are often only one or two local television or radio stations, and so it is possible to reach a critical mass of people with the program and create social change on a large scale.

    The U.S. poses a challenge because of its complex and fragmented media market — there are not a lot of shared media experiences anymore like “Roots” or “Who shot J.R.?” though “American Idol” might come close. On the upside, this fragmented market means that it is possible to reach specific niches and demographics in different ways.

    Although American soap operas generally only run during the daytime and may be around for decades, the telenovelas popular throughout the Spanish-speaking world (and running with much success on American Spanish-language networks like Univision and Telemundo) are broadcast during prime time and are of time-limited duration. A new American telenovela developed by an actress with a master’s in public health, “Nuestro Barrio” (“Our Neighborhood”), just finished its first season, running on cable stations in North Carolina. The series is geared toward new Spanish-speaking immigrants, and weaves in educational themes like fair housing and financial issues along with the more traditional plots of love and betrayal. While it does not appear that the creators are specifically following the Sabido method, the concepts they are using seem to be similar.

    And why not work with existing American (and other countries’) soap operas? They certainly already have the audience’s emotional involvement with the characters who may be old friends going back 20 years or more. In fact, this approach has been used with great success, and PCI has sponsored “Soap Summits” that bring together writers and producers of the soaps and public health experts.

    A survey done in 1999 (admittedly a while ago, but probably not that much different for today’s soap viewers) found that among regular viewers, i.e. viewers who watch soap operas at least twice a week:

    • Almost half (48%) report they learned something about diseases and how to prevent them from daytime drama storylines
    • More than one-third (34%) took some action as a result
    • Have more health concerns, and express more negative beliefs and behaviors about prevention practices than non-viewers
    • Women and blacks, who are among the groups with largest representation of regular viewers, report the highest rates of learning and action as a result of daytime drama viewing.
    • Seek out health information more than non-viewers, but have more difficulty understanding the information they read

    I think the next frontier of soap operas for social marketing will be online. You can very specifically target people with the characteristics you are trying to reach. You can create different messages for different types of people. Your audience can watch the episodes at their convenience, become part of a community of fans who discuss the show, perhaps even interact with the show to see how the characters’ decisions change what happens in their lives. With the rise of free on-demand video sharing sites like YouTube and Google Video, it is quite easy to make this type of program available once it has been produced. If you do a good job with it, people will share it with their friends and come back for each new episode. There is already a long list of episodic online series, though none seem to be venues for social marketing (a few are audio/video, but the rest are text- or comic-based).

    I was able to find out about one relevant online series. Incendia Health Studios has created an animated dramatic serial about HIV called Live With It. So far two “webisodes” have been posted that introduce the characters, and it will be interesting to see where they go with it over time. A review of the series describes it as follows:

    Live with It debuted in the fall of 2005 and follows a cast of fictional characters living with HIV/AIDS. Told in three to five minute episodic broadband videos, the unfolding serial drama follows the characters, who were inspired by real-life stories culled from blogs, online communities and other resources, as they cope with their diagnoses, confront their emotions and struggle with personal relationships. It also provides a powerful emotional experience– one that sufferers can relate to. To attract visitors and to encourage compliance, Live With It offers HIV sufferers not only medical advice and treatment options, but also a sense of community and shared experience as well.

    The series is also available via downloaded podcasts, and they have developed MySpace profiles for the characters as well.

    The potential for what could be done with online serial dramas based on Sabido’s methodology is vast. I think we will start seeing more of this type of programming soon. Who’s with me on this?

    Additional Resources:

    • Soap Operas for Social Change to Prevent HIV/AIDS: A Training Guide for Journalists and Media Personnel from the Population Media Center (PMC) – Download pdf here
    • Book: Soap Operas for Social Change: Toward a Methodology for Entertainment-Education Television by Heidi Noel Nariman – Information from the publisher here

    UPDATE: Bill Ryerson provided some minor clarifications, which I incorporated above, and offered a couple of additional resources:

    Movie Marketing and Murderball

    The other night I watched a movie called Murderball that was sent to me by Participant Productions, a company I have written about in the past. Both the movie and the way it has been promoted are notable.

    First, the movie – wow. Picture gladiators in wheelchairs. Mad Max playing rugby. These quadriplegic rugby players do not fit the standard stereotypes of people in wheelchairs. They are anything but fragile, banging into each other and knocking over opposing players’ chairs. Without helmets, no less.

    The documentary follows the rivalry of the American and Canadian quad rugby teams and gives us a glimpse into the lives of some of the players. The ways that the men came to be in a wheelchair are as varied as the personalities of the men themselves — by a car crash, childhood meningitis, bar brawl, gunshot. And that’s the point. People in wheelchairs are as different from each other as anyone else and should be treated as individuals. But what brings this group of guys together is what they have done with their situation. They have as much, if not more, testosterone as every other man, and their competitiveness and desire to excel drives them to do what nobody would ever expect. They drink, curse, have sex, harshly discipline their children…this is not a romanticized view of the “brave disabled person.”

    And because of this, I think that even more important than mainstream audiences seeing this film is having other quadriplegic people see this film. The most touching scene in the movie was when Mark Zupan, one of the American players, went to a rehab hospital to talk to the people there who had recently become paralyzed. The visit captured the imagination of one of the patients, a young man whose main love was motorcycles, when he was able to try out a competition wheelchair. It helped him see that his enjoyment of life did not have to be over just because he was in a wheelchair, and by the end of the movie he was saving up to buy his own rugby chair. A copy of this DVD should be sent to every rehab hospital in the country to give patients a glimpse of what is possible in their new life.

    So, yes, I liked the movie. But I am even more impressed with the way Participant Productions is promoting it (as they seem to do with most of their movies). They have created a campaign called “Get Into the Game” that ties in a disabilities awareness theme with a cause marketing piece. They are distributing free screening kits so that organizations or groups of friends can screen the movie and raise money for the US Paralympic team for wheelchairs for needy athletes. The kits include the DVD, discussion questions and tips for having a successful screening. They have also provided a way for people who get involved with the campaign to create a blog talking about what they did and to become part of a community that is addressing this issue. And they are bringing in bloggers (like me) who write about social change to spread the word as well.

    These are all things social marketers could do, related to any movie or TV show that positively portrays the kinds of messages we are promoting in our programs. Besides the communities of people who are affected by the issue, this would be a good opportunity to reach the fans of the show or actors in the movie to educate them and involve them in your strategies. Are there any entertainment programs or movies out there that you can tie into your own campaign?

    In the spirit of raising awareness and spreading the word about this movie, I will be passing along my copy of the Murderball DVD for others to watch. So, (and here’s the catch!) the next person to register for Social Marketing University will get the Murderball DVD. Don’t all crowd on at once!


    Toby Bloomberg (aka Diva Marketing) is collecting stories about how blogs have touched people’s lives in her Blogger Stories project. She asked me to contribute my story, which has just been posted, so if you’re interested in a little background on how I got into blogging you can read it there.

    Around the same time she asked me for my blogger story, Rohit Bhargava told me about Ogilvy’s global discussion blog about HIV/Aids on the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the disease. They want to gather as many personal stories as they can about the disease, to encourage people to keep the dialogue going and “just talk about it.” Here’s more about it from Rohit’s blog. Read the stories and contribute your own experiences.

    And I also recently came across the March of Dimes’ website, Share Your Story, in which parents of premature babies and babies in the NICU can tell their stories and get support from others going through the same thing.

    This approach of gathering personal stories about an issue for raising awareness or changing attitudes — whether it’s to show the soul behind the technology or the human faces of a health problem — plays off an essential part of what makes us human. We tell stories to each other to make connections. We learn from hearing about other people’s experiences. We give and get comfort from each other. We find universal truths in the individual details.

    The best marketing tells a story and makes a connection with the audience. Without that connection your issue is just another faceless subject among many. What story can you tell, and how can you make your audience care about that story?

    Can Movies Change Our Minds?

    In an editorial on Sunday in the LA Times, Maria DiBattista asks whether movies can change people’s minds about social issues, using “Brokeback Mountain” as an example:

    Movies can envision the need for social change, but it is unclear that they can help bring it about. They are better at pointing the way to a different, happier, more fulfilling life. Not the least interesting thing about the hopeless love dramatized in “Brokeback Mountain,” which garnered eight Oscar nominations last week, is how many social hopes it has inspired. Ang Lee, after winning the award as best director at the Golden Globes, hailed “the power of movies to change the way we’re thinking,” although he later thought it advisable to wait to “see how it plays out.”

    …Movies can take on the great social problems of their time, but they may be the least effective — or appropriate — medium for solving them. Did “Gentleman’s Agreement” mark the beginning of the end of anti-Semitism in America? Did “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” make it easier for interracial couples to marry? Did “Wall Street” help unseat the captains of industry and discredit their doctrine of “greed is good”? Name any “problem film” — whether it deals with discrimination (racial, ethnic, sexual or religious), social reform (of schools, prisons, legislatures) or corporate corruption (national or global) — and you will come up with the same unimpressive results. The more designs a movie has on us, the less willing we are to change our minds, much less our social and business practices.

    I have to disagree with her premise. I think that movies — whether feature films or TV movies — have the potential to change attitudes and beliefs, and ultimately to bring about individual and social change. In many cases, a movie may be the first exposure an individual has to a particular topic, raising the awareness that a problem exists. Think “Erin Brockovich” (environmental hazards), “Hotel Rwanda” (genocide), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (mental institutions) or the recent “Human Trafficking” on Lifetime, which I’ve discussed over on Craig Lefebvre’s blog.

    When health issues are portrayed and humanized in a movie, viewers are left with a richer understanding of what it must be like for a person with that condition and the people who take care of them. Movies like “A Beautiful Mind” (schizophrenia), “My Left Foot” (cerebral palsy), “Philadelphia” (AIDS), “Children of a Lesser God” (deafness), “Rain Man” (autism) and “Lorenzo’s Oil” (adrenoleukodystrophy – ALD) are all examples of stories with sympathetic characters that bring us into their world. Awareness is the first step to understanding, which may then lead to a desire to do something and make a difference — or at least be more sensitive to people with these conditions.

    Organizations addressing the crisis in Darfur actively promoted the viewing of the film “Hotel Rwanda” precisely to get people involved in confronting the current genocide. The miniseries “Human Trafficking” is part of Lifetime’s strategy to raise awareness of this issue with their audience and get them to take action. Movies can be the catalyst for individual and social change.

    Micki Krimmel makes the point on the WorldChanging blog that

    To a surprisingly great degree, the real power of films to affect social change is determined by the marketing…

    Hollywood marketers should take a cue from social action groups, and not just by copying their grassroots marketing model. There are clearly large groups of people out there who care about social causes and are just waiting for a movie they can get behind. If people believe in something, they’ll market it for you.

    The irony is that when the Hollywood marketers get hold of a film with the potential to spark social change, they minimize the controversial or issue-based aspects of the movie to make it more palatable to a broad audience. This then waters down the appeal of the film to the people who would be most likely to take the issue and run with it if they had been mobilized as part of the marketing strategy.

    Movies can be powerful. They let us live someone else’s life for 2 hours. They can help us understand the world from another’s viewpoint. They can show us things we would never see in our own lifetimes. When a movie comes out that addresses the issues you care about, use the opportunity to galvanize others and harness the power of film to change hearts and minds.

    I just came across this website – – that is associated with Participant Productions, where Micki Krimmel (linked above) works. Participant Productions is a film company started by Jeff Skoll of eBay, which produces movies specifically intended to bring about social change. Their recent films include Syriana, North Country, and Good Night and Good Luck. explicitly seeks to link the social action component described above with each movie. Whether or not you fall on the same side as them politically, this is a very interesting model with great potential for social marketing.