Transmedia and Multimedia Storytelling: Cloverfield

Transmedia and Multimedia Storytelling: Cloverfield

The term “transmedia” was coined by Marsha Kinder to describe media content that was contained within multiple platforms. Henry Jenkins later reintroduced the term under the umbrella of “transmedia storytelling”. Cloverfield is a science fiction horror anthology created and produced by J. J. Abrams which utilizes storytelling through viral marketing websites linking the films together as well as a cross-media tie-in manga to the first film which allows for multiple revenue streams and numerous sites of engagement that are derived from the same source (Evans 2011, 1).

Similar to that of the Blair Witch Project, J. J. Abrams’ Cloverfield or the “Cloververse” was one of the earliest and best examples of an online viral campaign in which multiple websites were designed and released containing hidden easter eggs enriching the fictional universe that these monsters resided in along with an alternate reality game comprised of a multitude of different websites that allowed fans to piece together all the bits shown in the movies and discover for themselves the origins of the creatures. As Marie-Laure Ryan states, transmedia usage is “a way to get us to consume as many products as possible”. This marketing link between movies excels the popularity of the one that comes after it, allowing the marketing team to create a chain of advertising that mean multiple movies can be linked together, easing the need for over-advertising (this is one of the reasons remakes are so popular because the title or style choice is commonly recognisable instantly which means associations of quality and entertainment are made instantly such as the Batman Logo).

The Cloverfield Alternate Reality Game or ‘ARG’ is the multimedia created for the film through primary use of the internet. These websites include, Slusho!, Tagruato, and T.I.D.O Wave and are often cryptic in their meaning or secretive to their media. The goal of these is commonly to create a storyline that “infiltrates” real life. The term storymaster or puppet master is frequently used within the ARG community to describe the game designers who are often funded by companies to promote particular products. The content is designed to be broken, so that the player can assemble it themselves and create a coherent story and solve the problem the story presents in a more personalised way that feels more real.

This has been done before in A.I. in which clues were placed in the end credits of the movie and on promotional posters where letters were circled in silver spelling out the phrase “Evan Chan was murdered” this led people to find intricately detailed and highly realistic websites and eventually led thousands of people to get involved, trying to figure out who killed the fictional character Evan Chan. When it finished around three months later, somewhere between seven and ten thousand people had joined the collective effort to solve the mystery, while hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) more were exposed to ‘the beast’ as it came to be known as through the massive media coverage and internet buzz it generated. This also occurred with Halo 2 in which easter eggs and links would expose an estimated one million people in total to the project in one way or another. These ARG’s are an incredibly useful way of attracting extra attention to your movie, especially if a series is planned in the works as this keeps viewers interested in the development of the storyline and can improve your chances of loyal and repeat consumers.

The Kishin manga was made as a tie-in to the 2008 Cloverfield movie to give additional background to the storyline. Websites have made it very easy to read Kishin translated into English and has allowed a larger audience to experience the manga and catch up with the storyline. The Cloverfield universe is also referenced outside of this anthology in other aspects of J. J. Abrams’ work such as the Tagruato logo appearing on a skyscraper in a futuristic San Francisco skyline in a Star Trek Super Bowl advert.

Typically in a series there is an emotional core that is embedded in the structure of the stories. For Example, The Dark Knight Trilogy is based on the idea that when we fail we learn to pick ourselves back up, learn from that failure, and try again. This is echoed by Cloverfield as each movie explores the idea of broken relationships and the fight to fix them. In all three movies they have aspects of this underlying message as well as possessing a larger message about corporations, what they do to the environment and what they can get away with because of their power. Movies require both personalised as well as global messages as a way of generating attraction and interest. Cloverfield caters to Gore/Horror/Thriller fans, but with the additional transmedia components, clever marketing techniques can begin to interest customers in genres such as Role-Playing and Puzzle. These features of Cloverfield demonstrate the impact of digital technologies on the media industry overall. As shown, these extended forms of storyline and media can reach a much larger consumer audience and can enter different markets that would not be accessed prior due to genre constriction of the original product.

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