The pursuit of happiness: Transmedia universes from the perspective of the audience

From Matteo Stanzani’s X-Media Lab keynote, September 27, 2013 – Lausanne, Switzerland

WARNING! While reading this post, if you come across a concept or a word that sounds strange, weird or too technical to you, please stop reading and clarify it.
Yes, I know, you’ve just found a very mysterious one within the title of this post: Transmedia.


While the words multi-media and cross-media have always been pretty clear and easy to understand, too many times I’ve heard professionals (even in the marketing and communications field) saying “Yeah, Transmedia, it’s so cool!” and then not being able to explain what that was. Quoting Einstein: “If you can’t explain it to your grandmother then you haven’t understood it.”


Quoting Jeff Gomez:
‘Transmedia storytelling is the vanguard process of conveying messages, themes or storylines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multiple media platforms and product lines. It is a philosophy of communication and brand extension that creates intense audience loyalty and long-term engagement, enriches the value of creative content, and generates multiple revenue streams.’

This is the most recent and best definition of Transmedia you can find, it technically tells you what Transmedia is about.
But it doesn’t tell you what’s behind it and why it works.



Quoting a famous Shakespeare’s line (from Hamlet, Scene V): “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Let me be more clear…



We live in a dual universe with opposite poles: lightness and darkness, good and evil, positive and negative, “to be or not to be”.
Since he was created, man has been asking himself “WHO AM I?” (which represents bright side). But that’s just half of the question. The other half is “WHO AM I NOT?” (the dark side). This is what we easily forget… It’s my personal belief that the energy to live comes from the dark side, from everything that makes us suffer. Each time our expectations crash into the reality of our everyday lives, we raise again from our ashes like a phoenix.
And this belief has lead me to an absolute and well-programmed skepticism, which helps me to understand my own masks as well as the masks of this “smiling universe”. Once Einstein said: “A group of scientists received 1 billion USD to build the atomic bomb. But nobody gave 1 billion USD to another group of scientist to think about how to make us safe from the atomic bomb”. This is why now I’m talking about Transmedia from the perspective of the audience.



We have been told: “Content is king!”. Yes, of course great content is a fundamental part of the success of a Transmedia strategy. Only with great content, compelling and consistent characters and stories you create “intense audience loyalty and long-term engagement”. But, again, this is just half of the story. Lately I came across this ancient Chinese proverb, that gives you a sort of poetic idea of what Transmedia is about.

Tell me, I’ll forget;
Show me, I’ll remember;
Involve me, I’ll understand

But there’s more.



Let’s put man in the center of the universe, let’s give him the main role, the role of the king! Let’s talk about the human nature, let’s analyze how man responds to a great content, how people are influenced by content. I did analyze that, and I came to my personal definition of Transmedia from the perspective of the audience:
“Transmedia storytelling is the ultimate source of solutions and happiness for an audience, whose entire repertoire of senses and perceptions is engaged through the skillful use of mystery, that generates an overall emotional involvement and leads the audience to copy, decide and finally create their own parallel universe.”

Sounds like something magic. And, actually, it IS!



In fact I compare Transmedia to a magic potion, whose ingredients are the following: technology, story, mystery, memories, timing, solutions, plus three magic words.
Together they result in the magic potion of happiness. Now let’s analyze every single ingredient:



I was just 6, and I still clearly remember watching one of Pippi’s episodes on my grandmother’s old black and white tv, no remote control, external antenna to fine tune the channel. One of the villains was threatening Pippi and I was feeling upset and angry. I just wanted to do something to help my heroine, I wanted to be active part of a show which, to me, was real life and I wanted to punch that dude in his face… How? by tapping onto his face on the tv screen with my finger! Sounds crazy, but I was expecting him to react, to feel my fingers like a punch into his eye and to run away! I was so frustrated… because it didn’t work! Well, my friends, today… we’re almost there!


Technology today is a fundamental ingredient to enhance and enliven a story. And you must use the right medium and the most suitable technology to communicate the right message. But regardless of where we’re going with technology, we still need great stories, good writing, and have a precise idea of who we are dealing with.



In his book “The Writer’s Journey” Christopher Vogler focuses on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of recurring narrative structures, character models and patterns, described through the use of elements whose apparent meaning symbolizes a deeper moral or spiritual meaning. The pattern is, in a few words: the hero leaves his ordinary world and enters an unknown and dangerous world, where he must overcome a series of challenges, including fighting villains and even his own inner fears, facing total failure or death! At the end the hero is transformed into a new, better and fearless person like, as I said, a phoenix raising from her ashes. The reward in the story may be gaining new knowledge, a treasure or rescuing a princess, but the inner reward is in the personal growth that is achieved. Just think about the Odissey, the Iliad, the Divine Comedy, La Chanson de Roland. And almost all successful Hollywood movies innately adhere to its principles. Then think about yourselves.


Everyone has a story worth telling, each one of you. Your life is a story, a journey made of challenges and obstacles. As for myself, besides a pretty “animated” childhood (my parents got married 3 more times, so I had an extra 6 families to deal with), I spent 15 years in the field of cross-media entertainment, advertising and edu-tainment, designing and producing an incredible amount of content. I was totally satisfied about my achievements in the Italian and European market. But, you know, sometimes it’s about challenging yourself to let it go and move on, start again, create something bigger, better, brighter and more meaningful! Eventually I came across something new, I left the known limits of my world and, according to Vogler’s book, I crossed the first threshold and I entered the mysterious realm of Transmedia!



What keeps the world spinning? Someone would say money, someone else’d say sex, maybe oil? Mystery and curiosity keep us moving forward. Curiosity is the willingness to know more, the great expectation to have more. Through mystery and curiosity you grab the audience’s attention. The right sequence is: mystery awakens and activates curiosity; curiosity stimulates attention; once attention has been grabbed by something that has been revealed, it becomes interest; interest arouses admiration, which is the essence of a strong line of communication between audience and content, in fact admiration generates loyalty and long-term engagement.



How many of you remember a place you have visited (on a holiday, a business trip) through its smell? Each time I smell a mix of fruit and garbage, I am immediately teleported to Paris, one of my favorite cities! It’s just a matter of “pushing the right button”, to recall images and feelings that have been stored in our brain, in our memory and have them back in your actual environment. You can lead the audience through a journey involving their 5 senses calling the exact locations in the brain where memories of every age are stored. Ask yourself why your stomach is telling you you need a slice of pizza as soon as you walk in front of a pizzeria, just smelling its fragrance or just seeing a billboard or an advertisement or just because you remember there’s a good pizza place right around the corner. As humans we are not simple beings and our brain is much more complex and sophisticated than a computer – by the way I want to spend a few words about those people who think a computer is way better than our brain, and that “we came from the original mud”… I think they are right: they came directly from that mud, you can easily tell just looking at them. I came from God and my brain is much better than my Apple computer! – but let’s go back to the main topic. A very interesting case history is Games Of Thrones: the Transmedia producer’s strategy was to activate passionate fans and have them broadcast their enthusiasm to a wider audience, so they created experiences spanning the 5 senses: i.e. the major blog influencers were gifted with a mysterious box containing small bottles filled with the smells of Game Of Thrones, the tavern, the castle, the horse’s sweat… This was followed by a taste experience, inspired by the rich depictions of food within the story. Guess what? Of course the human brain responded immediately, and the strategy worked great!
The traditional “five senses” model (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) is credited to Aristotele, but there are more, less famous senses and sensibilities: the ability to sense heat and cold; the ability to tell where your body parts are; the ability to feel pain, hunger and the ability to feel time!
Again, man is the center of the universe. Machines able to beat humans is a fantastic and interesting theory to be told in science-fiction movies. Reality is and will always be a different story.



Timing is the process of regulating actions in relation to others to produce the best effect, as in music, theatre, sport, etc. One of the secrets of comedy is timing, and I think life and comedy are pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? :)  We live in a super fast and noisy world, and you have to act fast and with the right timing in order to keep the audience’s interest alive.



In the last few years so many things have changed so quickly that a lot of people working in the field of marketing, advertising, entertainment and even education, still haven’t understood what happened. People use smartphones all the time, while walking, driving, watching tv using 2, sometimes 3, different devices at the same time. Why? Because they are searching for something. Grabbing audience’s attention today is way way way more difficult than just 5 or 4 years ago. Your audience is expecting much more than an old fashioned tv commercial or an intrusive advertising banner on a website. You must listen to your audience and engage them providing them with value, that is made of answers and solutions.
Your audience need the right solution at the right time!



Every considerable magic potion requires proper magic words.
In fact the magic ingredients cannot be activated unless the audience pronounce the following magic words:



COPY [kop-ee] vb – from Medieval Latin cōpia an imitation, something copied, from Latin: abundance, wealth; 
1. to make a copy of; transcribe; reproduce: to copy a set of figures from a book.
2. to receive and understand (a radio message or its sender).
3. to follow as a pattern or model; imitate.

Everyday people find quite difficult facing everyday life, so they have a strong aptitude for copying and imitating what they love and make them feel better. This is what cinema, television, books, are based on, on one of the easiest and, at the same time, highest of the human aptitudes and activities. How many times have you found yourself shooting an imaginary spy in a dark corner of your city after watching a James Bond movie? How many times you’ve killed some annoying dude using your own Wolverine’s blades? How many times have you been driving fast, grabbing Michael Schumacher’s steering wheel, after watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix? You, as a spectator, are induced to copy. And your mind does that by purpose, consciously, on your own free will! This is the reason why man is at the center of the Transmedia universe…. copy that? :) Copying and dreaming of living a better life, like a hero, is much easier and less dangerous than living for real like James Bond, Michael Schumacher, and even less complicated than living like a real celebrity, forced to hide from paparazzi and stalkers. Imitating, copying is the best way the audience has got to escape an everyday life made of too many problems.



DECIDE [dɪˈsaɪd] vb – from Latin dēcīdere, literally: to cut off, from caedere (to cut) 
1. to cause (a person) to reach a decision
2. to determine or settle (a contest or question).
After copying, the audience comes to a question: “Is it worthy?” If the answer is yes, they leave their confusion behind and decide for the existence of the dream: a parallel life (that becomes absolutely real), parallel to the complicated – and sometimes apathetic – life they are living.



CREATE [kriːˈeɪt] vb – from Latin creāre to produce, make
1. to cause to come into existence 
2. to be the cause of: these circumstances created the revolution
3. to act (a role) in the first production of a play.
Create, the highest of the human activities! Through the creation of a parallel life the audience overcomes all obstacles and reaches something that might seem artificial, but it’s called…



What is happiness? It is usually considered an emotion, but it’s not. Happiness is a ‘state of mind’ and it is the result of a very precise event: ‘overcoming a known obstacle’. Think about this: each time you set yourself a goal, even a small one, and you achieve that goal, then you fill yourself up with happiness. So what has Transmedia got to do with happiness? At this time it should be pretty clear: Transmedia gives people the power to create their own universe, tailored on their needs and expectations, in order to overcome the biggest obstacle of all, their everyday life, and to be happy.



You can engage your audience with very different purposes: to make a lot of money, to educate, to lead a revolution or just to make people happy. Transmedia is a powerful tool to lead people in the direction you want them to go. Through a well designed Transmedia strategy you are displaying the conflict between personal expectations and cruel reality. You are offering your audience something they cannot refuse. This is power, and a huge responsibility you have.



Coming to the conclusion of this little journey, I want to tell you the last story. In 1493 Cristoforo Colombo was dining with many Spanish nobles when one of them said: ‘Señor Cristoforo, even if your Lordship had not discovered the Indies, there would have been, here in Spain, someone who would have started a similar adventure with the same result.’ Colombo, who was an italian-blood-badass, did not respond to these words but asked for a whole egg to be brought to him and said: ‘My lords, I bet none of you will be able to make this egg stand on its end like I will do without any kind of help.’ They all tried without success and when the egg returned to Colombo, he tapped it gently on the table breaking it slightly and, with this, the egg stood on its end. All those present suddenly understood what he meant: that once something has been achieved, then anyone knows how to do it.


I say:

Quoting Maya Angelou, american poet:
I’ve learned that
people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Share Your Vision!

All images, trademarks, brands and names are property of their respective owners and their use is intended for the sole purpose of this informative post.


  1. Thank you for this article! I'll re-read it a few more times to really grasp it and then expect it to unfold and fold back upon itself a few times…(: My thirteen year old son and I are embarking on a transmedia creation, a coming-of-age hero's journey about a homeless boy's quest, in an otherworldly realm, to release his demons and awaken his infinite potential. My mind is blown open by the possibilities for creating this story experience! I'll search for more of your writings but if you can suggest any that may be of particular support to our project would you recommend or link them? I love your quote, “Think like a genius, speak like a child, share your vision and always preserve your Personal Integrity, no matter the cost.” It speaks to me deeply.

    ~ Caz

Leave a Comment