Aesthetics. Rhetoric. Social good.

(1) Multiple rabbit holes – Total Recall (2012)

Walking in the Upper West Side, I spied a billboard: “Tell us your fantasy. We’ll make it real.” Intrigued, I took out my phone and entered the website listed at the bottom of the poster. There I received the following message: “We’re sorry – This content requires Adobe Flash Player.” 

This was a frustrating-no-flabbergasting user experience. And one that just should not be happening in a 2012 transmedia campaign for a summer blockbuster. When I finally got around to looking up the site at home, I found a compelling (but limited) Surrogate-esque storyworld. The next day I saw another billboard in Greenwich Village – “Beware of Rekall: Don’t Let Them Blow Your Mind” directing me to a different website.

This one actually worked on my phone, and with an aesthetic reminiscent of the recent Internet Blacklisting Bill campaigns – featuring a dot org url and a censorship theme. Here, audiences are targeted in a smart way with regard to the billboard placement  – certain neighborhoods in New York definitely evoke a certain ethos. This is about knowing the audience and creating multiple rabbit holes – or entry points for them to follow. Transmedia campaigns need to employ multiple mediums to deliver a message – each adding a unique contribution to the development of the story. It s about engaging the audience, drawing them in, and rewarding the curious and loyal.

(2) “This is not a game” philosophy – Prometheus (2012)

Like the “No Rekall” mock Public Service Announcement, a large part of transmedia storytelling is creating a believable fiction – a credible alternate reality. In some of the best cases, the storyworld blends with Real Life so seamlessly that we don’t even know when we’ve entered the rabbit hole (or are playing a game). Take Peter Weyland’s 2023 TED Talk. First glance, this appears to be bonafide TED Talk  – it is posted on, after all. This was the first time TED used its platform for promotional purposes – fans didn’t see it coming.

This move brilliantly demonstrates the “This is not a game philosophy” by transcending the “rules”  – what we expect from a “game” –  guidelines, pieces/equipment, a playing field, and defined outcome. By blurring the boundaries between game and reality- we enter the immersive world of the alternate reality game.

(3) Here we are now, entertain us – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Alternate Reality Gaming was born on the Internet, combining interactivity and storytelling to create a truly immersive storyworld. The classic example is the well documented Jeanine Salla, Sentient Machine Therapist, from A.I. 

Starting with this name and intriguing title listed on the film poster curious fans were drawn into a highly complex interactive game so large it is simply referred to as The Beast. Leaving trails of breadcrumbs, clues, for curious fans to discover and advance, this alternate reality game pushed the limits of interactivity. The boundaries of the game were unknown. The platforms, playing field, and outcomes were all out there waiting to be discovered and developed.

The fact is, going to a site and pushing a few buttons isn’t going to entertain us anymore (if it ever did). We want to be immersed. We want to use our brains. Our imaginations. We want to work together. We want to contribute. Here’s the key: for effective transmedia storytelling, meaning has to be designed by the audience as much as by the creators.

32 Responses to “Follow the White Rabbit: 3 stories, 3 lessons”

  1. versipellusfenris

    Great post. It is interesting to see how viral marketing campaigns have become as much of a story (for good or ill) as what they’re campaigning for.

  2. L. Palmer

    Interesting, thought provoking post. The cross-overs between reality and science-fiction become more and more blurry as we’re able to experiment with technology, and connect with people in ways never thought possible.

  3. petriesan

    really cool concepts.
    life is more and more down the rabbit hole, where up is down and down is up and only the confusing makes sense.
    Lewis Carroll live in the wrong age, but then, had he lived now, we might never have met alice. . .

  4. Grumpa Joe

    I didn’t understand a word of what you said, but I commend you for having the guts to say it. Thanks.

  5. Terry

    Thanks for posting, the A.I. Movie is the only reference I know…. shame on me !
    Very cool that this post came up for me…. I’m writing a Hunger Games meets the Matrix book right now and giving it away for free online as I write it.

  6. cartoonmick

    I’ve only ever gone down 1 rabbit hole, and I still can’t get out of the bloody thing !!!

  7. Aimée Knight

    Thanks for the comments! It’s really interesting to observe how transmedia is using storyworlds to blend fiction and nonfiction. Seems that the difference between real life and virtual worlds used to be a lot more black and white. Augmented and alternate realities are becoming a part of our everyday lives. And that’s fascinating.

  8. investmentingoldandsilverr

    I go through the website given at the bottom of the picture with my laptop. This website is nice but the page speed is too slow. Very thoughtful and nice post.

  9. Push

    Excellent post and summary. These are three great examples of “rabbit hole” marketing.

  10. fromthomas77b

    Most awesome, post, Thanks for your work.

  11. thefirstwarrior

    This goes to the heart of my current dilemma. I have an intriguing story to tell but how do I publicise it without coming across as a car salesman in disguise? Any good novel has a good hook – its first line. If people never get to read it no matter how good it is, it will fail in terms of the purpose of its existence. My novel ‘The First Warrior’ has just been published on amazon for kindle. It is not the typical fantasy novel. It explores a number of different reality states and has a semi-mythical quality, even one rabbit hole adventure. I am blogging in the hope of publicising it, as who will know about it if I don’t? Intriguing blog, hope you don’t mind my mentioning mine. I am blogging as The Crazy Quill/The First Warrior.

  12. xmppinjuly

    how do you like your iphone now?

    please join android fans pushing for HTML5 [video]

    At least droid users can employ PDroid framework hack. There is STILL no iphone analog 😦

  13. Liza

    Interesting post…now I feel like Alice 🙂 congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

  14. MattvNiftrik

    Really interesting. Viral marketing is something taking its first steps here in the UK. It’ll pick up speed soon I’m sure. Nice post.

  15. J

    Thank you. Very well put. Difficult to do effectively, and yet when it is done well, it’s magic.

  16. Will I Ever Be Freshly Pressed? « Lynn Schneider Books

    […] Follow the White Rabbit. I didn’t get much of this. It’s about artificial intelligence or something. I started yawning as soon as I realized this. Not into science fiction or fantasy or AI. Nice photos of billboards. Some would probably think this interesting. Alas, not me. But there’s nothing wrong with the post. […]

  17. Michael Wais

    Did you ever hear of the ARG campaign that promoted Nine Inch Nails album “Year Zero”? That was about the best viral ARG campaign ever! Trent Reznor did a similar ARG type of viral role-playing experience to promote “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” soundtrack but it was hardly as deep or epic as the “Year Zero” campaign.

    There’s one thing I’m wondering about regarding the second “Total Recall” ARG-campaign you mentioned. Do you think that spatial/regional tagging of locations could be used on specific platforms like Google Places or Foursquare? That’s an interesting concept.

    I really liked that you got into some of the deeper history of viral campaigns with the campaign for the film “A. I.”.

    Awesome post!

  18. Michael Wais

    Oh, and several weeks ago I watched that TED video that was a hook for “Prometheus”. What I really dug about it was that the script for that Youtube video was actually very articulate and it had a good follow-through. They could have just made up a bunch of stuff, put some neat sounding big words that sounded like nasty chemicals here and there, and basically made the speech sound so neat and trippy that any dumb person could swallow it up as a great way to subliminally hook in the audience.

    Instead, the people doing the marketing or production of the film heeded the words of the director of “Giant”, George Stevens (whether deliberately or not). That advice was, “Respect your audience.” Something that flowed with the story, blended in with that environment of that “Alien” universe, and had powerful and emotive writing was used to create sympathy for the characters. The marketing device wasn’t like another that might depend on cool graphics or similar gimmicks in order to reach an audience.

    A word of warning about the other parts of the “Prometheus” viral campaign though. I visited the Weyland Industries site and it is so BORING!! I wanted there to be more games where a player could escape the wrath of killer xenomorphs or face-huggers. Instead the first game I checked out on there had me jumping over barrels in some Flash animated sprinting game. No cool violence or sexy images of Sigourney Weaver :/ . I wish they would have made the “Weyland Industries” website live up to the gameplay of the video-games and arcade-games that came from the franchise of James Cameron’s “Aliens” film.

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