Saturday, September 16, 2017

Finally! American Horror Story Stretches Its Visual Storytelling Wings

Sometimes I wonder if Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the creators of the FX Network anthology, American Horror Story, had any idea that their creation would garner such an enthusiastic fan base. When taking a holistic look at the series, where characters appear from season to season, and where one story connects to another story in another season, it amazes me that it took the creators and the network so long to finally come to realize they could create an immersive, ultimate fan experience through the use of social media.

I mean, beyond a television show that already takes visual storytelling to the next level through dramatic shots, interesting characters, and amazing sets/locations, this series has always created incredible pieces of visual storytelling through ads in magazines, billboards, across their social media platforms, and websites that are visually stunning pieces of art (albeit very creepy). In the 8 to 10 weeks leading up to the premier of a new season, American Horror Story usually rolls out ads that looks like this:

From Season 4

From Season 7

As you can see, the ads use minimal words, allowing the picture to share some insight into what the upcoming season is about. This is the ultimate rule of visual storytelling: show, don't tell.  Doing this, and doing it well, has always paid off for the network, as these amazing visuals create anticipation and intrigue among fans of the show, and even serve to pull viewers in who may have never seen the show before.

For season 7, the FX Network took their visual storytelling game to the next level, by inviting fans and viewers to become a part of the "cult" of their show by going to the show's official website. For 8 weeks, American Horror Story (AHS), took fans on an interactive journey leading up to the season premier - a journey that was relevant to the content of the season, and that took viewers to a deeper interaction than they had ever experienced with the show. Every week on this journey unlocked clues and bonus content of the show.

This experience was presented at the San Diego Comic-Con, where the show and cast have usually participated in years past. As a part of creating the intrigue around season 7, this video teaser was the only presence the show had in the convention this year, which revealed "Cult" as the title of the season:

When viewers went to the website, they were greeted with this visual, inviting the user to "click here":

After entering the website, users began their journey, where the site then takes the user directly to Facebook Messenger, where it appears that the user is chatting with another member of the cult, promising that they will contact the user again soon (incredibly creepy, but brilliant transmedia concept):

When the user goes back to the AHS homepage (and by also giving AHS permission to link to your Facebook account), they will find that they've been assigned a "Cult ID number," and a widget to the right that indicates completed missions that will be unlocked on a weekly basis leading up to the season 7 premier:

Users were encouraged to come back, week after week, to the AHS website, and to follow AHS (and producer Ryan Murphy) across all social media platforms for the full experience and special clues that would help the user unlock the bonus content - there were mini-games, such as a word scramble that led to information about what cast members were returning to this season, and the connection of the storyline of the upcoming season to past seasons. Incredibly, AHS took this immersive experience into the real world, inviting "cult members" to head to Dilworth Park in Philadelphia on August 11th to unlock more clues (similar events were held in cities all across the U.S.). There, "cult members" were invited into a tent, where they could interact with promotional props and take photos that mimicked original promotional ads, and they also received prizes & had access to limited edition merchandise, such as these glasses featuring the logo for a restaurant featured in the show:

Another feature revealed in the weeks following in the journey, was a Snapchat filter, which transformed the users face into the face of an incredibly creepy clown.

This 8 week, promotional, immersive, transmedia, crowdsourced, visually amazing, storytelling experience was mind-blowing. Hands down, it is probably the most incredible use of social media, real-world experiences, and promotional marketing any business or franchise has ever done. It seems as if the showrunners read Henry Jenkins' work and decided to one-up him on every level. And AHS is a prime example of what Jenkins refers to when he speaks of "complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories." That is why I am absolutely amazed that AHS and FX Network had not utilized this approach to marketing before now, because they absolutely knocked this experience out of the park. 

And, as expected, fans of the show are already anticipating what in the world AHS will come up with next season to top this experience. I must admit, I will now be anxiously awaiting what they have in store for the future, as well. 

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