Transmedia Storytelling has only been coined recently, but it isn’t a modern creation, as the Christian Church has used it throughout history. But even governments have gotten into the action with a more recent example being the Winnipeg government’s marketing effort to sell war bonds during World War 2.
First some context, during World War 2 one of the ways governments raised money was through selling war bonds or “Victory” bonds. Victory bonds are just like regular government bonds except they are meant to fund the war effort and sound cooler when you can say “I’m buying victory! Fundraising was done by the National War Finance Committee, whose $3 million marketing budget used a variety of traditional advertising including posters, direct mailing, movie trailers, radio commercials and full page advertisement in most major daily newspaper and weekly magazine. In Winnipeg, the Winnipeg branch of the victory loan organization didn’t think that the Winnipeggers were buying enough Victory Bonds so they decided to get creative to drum up support.
They let the Nazis invade Winnipeg.
On February 19, 1942, the Nazis invaded and occupied Winnipeg. Surrounding cities and nearby towns were “invaded and occupied” by members of the military and volunteer organizations dressed in Wehrmacht uniforms. Real planes painted like German war planes flew over the city, artillery bombarded the city, and bridges were blown up.
Of course the invasion was simulated, but the occupation was played out as Nazis would, including arresting prominent politicians, and business leaders. They also raided libraries and burned books, boarded up churches, and stole people’s foods. Behaving like dicks as the Nazis would do. The day was called If Day as in “If you don’t buy Victory bonds the Nazis will invade” day.
The immediate effect of goose-stepping soldiers on the streets wasn’t the only medium contributing to the narrative. Newspapers printed articles like they were written by the Nazi party, including new food restrictions, “German approved” jokes and a four page article describing what a Nazi occupation would actually resemble. They also forced citizens to sign up to the registry office to obtain vehicle permits (and also the location where Victory bonds were conveniently sold).
After If Day, the Victory Loan Organization set up a huge map of Winnipeg divided into districts, they only way the Winnipeggers could “liberate” each district was purchase enough victory bonds.
Winnipeggers raised $65 million in bonds, “liberating” their city and was a ridiculous amount of victory bonds for any city to raise. If Day was repeated in other cities including Vancouver. It was also extensively filmed and shown in theatres to many other North American cities.
Almost unknown today, along with whatever happens Winnipeg, If day still should still be considered one of the most effective Transmedia marketing campaigns, incorporating nearly every medium of communications available in the 1940s as well as one of the most elaborate government-organized simulation of all time. While it would be nearly unimaginable to re-enact invasions for war efforts, (can you imagine allowing actors dressed as ISIS fighters driving technicals all over Manhattan?) lessons can still be taken from it especially for governments.
I mentioned ISIS and one of the reasons why they have been so successful in their recruitment and outreach is not only is there social media fantastic, but Western Media has effectively made them greater and better, by contributing to their narrative by making them exactly as how they wish to be portrayed the greatest threat to western democracies ever seen. This has led to one of the most effective geopolitical brand outreach which has recruited thousands of new recruits and inspired acts of homegrown terrorism, some of them sadly succeeding.
If the world’s newest “state” can be this effective in communicating their desired narrative, then modern governments can do just as well in communicating their message to their citizens. It will require originality and a willingness to move beyond traditional marketing methods, “If day” has shown that western governments are capable of innovation, they can do it again.