May 3, 2012
Welcome to the latest instalment in my new Transmedia Case Study series, where we examine the triumphs and epic fails in executing a Big Media property across multiple platforms. In the inaugural feature, we were treated to an example of transmedia done right – so now it only makes sense to balance the scales and give perspective on how an intellectual property (IP) rich with potential can both fall flat, and miss out on some major TM opportunities…
For me, this was a heartbreaker. I’ve made no secret for my love of all things GREEN LANTERN. I was raised on the character, weaned on the socially conscious Lantern/Arrow era of the 70s, and the goofy Challenge of the Superfriends show in the early 80s:
I’d never be a tortured billionaire playboy. The odds of being bitten by a radioactive insect in the Big Apple were astronomically against. And, though adopted, I’m pretty sure my cultural roots don’t reach across the stars to the House of El.
But I had willpower…and the potential to overcome great fear…and dreams of being a part something greater than myself.
It appears I wasn’t alone.
Green Lantern (GL to us comic geeks) had millions of fans, thanks in no small part to DC’s go-to writer (and current Chief Creative Officer) GEOFF JOHNS revamping the character a few years back. In fact, his run on the emerald warrior was so innovative and successful that it singlehandedly convinced WB execs to fast-track and ‘green light’ – pun intended – a $200M+ feature film.
Dammit…the ingredients were all there. A killer IP (WB was calling it ‘their Star Wars’). A solid director. The complete backing of its blockbuster studio and parent company. Legions of faithful fans, eager to evangelize. Heck, they even landed an effortlessly charming lead who caused avalanches of multi-quadrant buzz in his first major Comic-Con appearance:
So…what went wrong?
First off – say what you will about the film. Many have. But we’re talking about transmedia here – getting to the atomic structure of a narrative property or brand. Going back to the gemstone analogy for TM that I proposed when relaunching the site, we can’t necessarily say that the entire diamond is worthless just because one of the facets wasn’t properly cut. Instead, its about honoring the core structure of the stone itself.
So what did the creative braintrust at DC/WB do?
- SAY THE OATH – hard to understand the logic behind inviting fans and newbies to record themselves performing the sacred GL oath on webcam. You risk alienating the cool-kids/casuals with the awkwardness of it all…and you piss off the hardcores every time they open a clip and see some mactor/mactress (the H’wood term for model/actors hired to lend a glimmer of glamour to a campaign) butchering their equivalent of John 3:16.
- ENGAGEMENT CAMPAIGN – cobbling together a series of loosely related Flash games aimed at ‘educating fresh eyes and rewarding the faithful’ is a prime example of LCDM (Lowest Common Denominator Marketing). This felt like nothing more than a collection of one-offs, destined to ‘engage’ 6-12yr olds at most…rather than stoking teen tastemakers like Warners surely intended.
- GL APP – what do you get when you slap together a collection of archived comics, bare-bones character summaries, behind the scenes imagery, readily available film clips, and in-app purchasing for future issues? This. Whee.
- POSTER CAMPAIGN – it’s marketing 101 now (ever since the Lord of the Rings trilogy did it) to break out ‘unique one-sheets’ to showcase character names, designs, and a complex IP’s cast scope. But, other than showing off snazzy suits and reminding us we’re heading into sci-fi/alien-infested territory, how are we engaged by this?
- VIDEOGAME: Rise of the Manhunters may feature star voices from the film and ape God of War‘s game mechanics in space – all cool on paper – but why do we care? The Manhunters in question (the Guardians of the Universe‘s original police force) are never referenced in the flick, the finished product felt rushed, and the core of the Lantern experience – creating/doing/executing almost anything imaginable through sheer force of will – fell far, far short of the mark.
As a hardcore Lantern wannabe – sorry, but I’d trade this workaday life for a ring and space sector in a heartbeat – none of the above inspires FEELING. Where’s the awe? The imagination? The history? The stakes? A clear understanding of the world’s rules and goals? How can an audience dig deep and bathe in the glowing emerald wellspring of Lantern-ness if they don’t view this weird new IP as anything other than the next tired exercise in marketing and toy-pimping??? Cleverness will only get you so far, even in Rio…
Okay, okay – I hear you. Short of handing out thousands of actual ‘magic rings’ (ie: finger-sized, multi-image green laser projectors…yes, they’re coming), this is a challenging property to create tactile engagement with. There’s no Hogwarts equivalent to visit. No Bat gear to help you protect your city on two wheels. No Iron Throne to claim as your own. But you need to give them something. To hold. To treasure. To make the audience feel like they’re in on a secret – a secret laden with history, and gravity, and complexity – and privy to a world reserved for those special enough to ‘get’ it.
A multifaceted experience, specifically designed for the brave and the bold. (See what I did there?)
WHAT COULD’VE BEEN
The Book of OA.
It’s the mystical repository of the collective wisdom of the Guardians of the Universe, containing all moments of History. We’re talking everything from The Celestial Hand cradling the nascent energies of Existence, right up to Hal Jordan not getting laid last week. Everything. In text. Images. ‘Recorded Memories’ (animated and video). Historical quotes. The Corps’ highest highs, lowest lows, and greatest hits. A complete registry of every lantern that ever was, and how the 3600 sectors of space are allocated.
It responds to queries with an AI-like omniscience.
It cross-references between similar characters and key events in its database.
And it’s a big-ass, otherworldly, IP-specific…glowing book.
You’re welcome, DC. You’re goddamn welcome.
TCS RATING: C-