Digital Storytelling for Social Impact : The Rockefeller Foundation

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‘Few would deny that storytelling is a powerful tool for inspiring action and change and influencing thought leaders, funders, and decision makers. In the digital era, the shape and delivery of stories has shifted dramatically. Long-form narrative and conventional journalism now share the stage with messages of 140 characters or fewer and images that disappear seconds after they are opened.

While there have never been more ways to reach audiences, it has also never been more difficult to really reach them.

The Foundation recognizes a big opportunity in this intersection of story and technology, and has launched a project to consider the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a means to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnerable around the world.

We drew the insights and ideas in this report from interviews and roundtable discussions with thought leaders in entertainment media and news, brand strategy, technology, philanthropy, government, nonprofits, and business. We conducted a technical platform assessment and landscape analysis to evaluate the current state of digital storytelling. We explored the power of narrative and networked communication to expand reach and influence. We also identified unmet supply and demand needs in the field and opportunities for innovation….’

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+City Twitter Data Visualization Project Featured on SSHRC Home Page

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My collaborator, Faisal Anwar, & I were delighted to see our +City research/creation data visualization project featured on the SSHRC home page with a very short interview:

Where social media and ‘real life’ intersect, crucial questions emerge

Ontario researcher Siobhan O’Flynn started out with a seemingly straightforward question: how do people use Twitter to navigate large‑scale cultural events like Toronto’s Nuit Blanche? Digging in, however, the University of Toronto lecturer and her team unearthed issues of copyright, ethics and privacy that could have a profound impact on how journalists, academics and governments handle social media data.

“The information individuals make available without questioning the consequences is astonishing,” she observes. “It is available for data mining to marketers for a fee—and now, as we are well aware, to intelligence agencies as well. There are vital questions we need to answer here going forward.”

O’Flynn was originally curious to learn if insights into social media use during live events in specific locations might contribute to better urban planning—specifically, the creation of spaces that foster positive social outcomes.

“We wanted to know whether social media exchanges affect people’s real‑world actions and experiences,” she says, “and how that might inform urban planning and event design.”

The current project the SSHRC post refers to has a fuller description on our website:

In +City’s latest DV work ‘Public/Private – Playing in the Digital Sphere,’ +City’s research and practice investigates the troubled & unstable grey zone of how Twitter content in the digital public realm changes from public to private, depending on the context of use and the question and often, point of access. As a series of ongoing, interrelated projects, our research now asks: what does it mean to make ‘art’ with content pulled from the digital public realm, especially when Twitter users often list personal details (location, occupation, etc) on their pages? & profiles pics are just as likely to be head shots as custom avatars? What is/should be the borderline between the public & private digital spheres? What are the implications of data mining & the commercialization of digital content in the era of big data? What does it mean to resurrect archived content in a public interactive context? And to be able to search with twitter hashtag streams in real time?

You have to Love Lionsgate’s Commitment to the Dark Side: Catching Fire’s Misfired Marketing…

With November 22 now 2 months & 22 days away, you have to love Lionsgate’s commitment to marketing the vacuous superficial lifestyle of the Capitol Panem, which if you’ve read The Hunger Games Trilogy, you know is functionally a hyped up runway version of the Death Star.

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Cover Girl’s commercial above proclaims: ’12 districts . 12 looks. 1 collection’ – Hurray! no mention of brutality & deaths here!

Check out the Capitol Couture Tumblr page which has just launched its fall fashion issue, glamourizing the first of many could-be or soon-to-be-dead ‘stars’ of the games.

If you know Johanna’s story, you know that because of her choices (won’t say what), her loved ones are killed in retaliation.  And that she is tortured at a later point… won’t go into details.

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Yet meanwhile over on Capitol Couture we have this fashion mag blurb. The last line seems pointedly weird given that Collins’ makes the lack of agency and control the Tributes have over their bodies such a key theme of the series: ‘During make up, Mason doesn’t fidget as her artist adheres three-inch eyelashes to her lower…’

In The Hunger Games, Cinna warns Katniss not to resist & to do everything that her stylists want her to do. The implication is pretty clear that to resist is to risk extreme punishment or death, perhaps not one’s own death, but one’s loved ones potentially.

Check out the glamourized pic of Mags below & the accompanying text which also misreads the works, as Collins via Katniss is explicit in her presentation of Panem as a society that eschews aging, preferring extreme plastic surgery and thinness in a rejection of ‘aging with dignity and grace.’

That we have a ratings score on pout is a bit of an obscenity, to be blunt.

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I continue to be mystified by Lionsgate’s focus on the Capitol in promoting the film. In the lead up to the launch of The Hunger Games, Lionsgate & China Glaze teamed up with the Capitol Colours, with a line of 12 colours, one for each district and fantastic polish names like Foie Gras, Agro, Smoke and Ashes…

Capture nail polish

One blogger posted a breakdown of the colours in the spirit of Capitol Couture here with enticing yet paradoxical descriptions such as:

‘Smoke & Ashes (District 12- Mining): Even though I’m not typically drawn to black nail polishes, I had to have this one (the fact that it is district 12’s color and I may or may not be in love with 2 of district 12’s leading men may have something to do with this).  The finely milled glitter flecks found in Smoke & Ashes are a mixture of blue, green, silver and purple, making this polish resemble the night sky – OBSESSED!’

Yes, indeed, paradoxical as the smoke and ashes are  increasingly unpleasant  as the series continues. The decision to market cosmetics to promote the film was fabulously expressed by Tim Palen, Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer, who said:

“Having a nail polish for the rabid young girl fan base to relate to our movie on a personal level feels smart.”

Monica Corcoran Harel quoted Palen in a biting article in NY Times in March 2012, ‘Forget the Plot. What Nail Polish Is She Wearing?‘ and her criticism is just as valid in the push to the second film as it was in the first:

“…[because] the film’s characters are too busy murdering each other to get manicures, the nail polishes are sold as products worn by the extras…”

Fans over at The Hunger But Mostly Death Games, thankfully, parodied the marketing campaign, launching their own line of nail polish, with colours replicating the pus oozing tracker jacker stings that kill Glimmer and numerous other brutal details of Collins’ series.


So here we go again, now with major ads out in Vogue & other magazines, this time with Cover Girl partnering. Now you have to admire an ad that so blatantly promotes the Capitol in Cover Girl’s enthusiastic endorsement of Panem: ‘Coming to the Capitol this Fall’!

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So in the fictional world of The Hunger Games, Cover Girl is then the make-up of choice of the stylists who handle the body modifications & glamourizing of those 24 Tributes, 23 of whom will die? Surely, someone in house has read the book or has a son or daughter who has read the series!

“Capitol Fashionistas have a very big reason to look forward to autumn. Just announced, a premiere line of beauty products brought to you by the perennial COVERGIRL — The Capitol Collection — will soon arrive to glam the glamorous. This Collection promises to inspire a new era of expressive beauty through make-up.  Keep tabs on Capitol Couture for exclusive reveals and get ready to discover a new ‘you’ this fall.”

What oh what will this marketing campaign do next? It’s very deja vu to revisit my case study on the campaign for the first film, here, and see exactly the same problematic choices being replayed. Given how dark this series is, you really don’t want to be on the Dark Side. And the Dark Side doesn’t fare well in the end either.

The comments on Cover Girl’s commercial are predominantly critical:

‘any one feel a little bit scared out now’

‘To agree with them others: When this came on TV… I nearly shat nightlock’

‘Btw I’ve got nothing against people who like/use lots of makeup – but to do a promotion around this?!? *shakes head*’

Even the raves show tinges of guilt at buying in to the commercial sell:

‘Does it make me a crazy district 1 person if I am like.. super excited to waste my money and buy all of it? Because.. I am.’

So…. yet again, I’m hanging in to see how long it’s going to take for Lionsgate to shift the focus from the unequivocally evil Panem to the counter forces that Katniss represents. Seriously. What is Lionsgate going to do for The Mockingjay??? Promote a make-up line for civil war? for terrorism? Seriously.

World War Z’s Creepy In-Game Transmedia Campaign

Having thoroughly enjoyed Max Brook’s Zombie thriller novel, I’ve been wondering where the pre-launch transmedia campaign for World War Z is and last night I finally had some spare time to track it down.


Cleverly named to stay in-game by hyping a growing crisis rather than the film’s end-of-days all-out War, the Crisis Zero website has a warning video, an alarming set of survival tips, links to a Twitter account posting intermittent updates since May 13, and a Facebook Alert Recruitment Tool to spread the ‘viral’ campaign.

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And if you follow the links in the Tweets you’ll find the CrisisZero2013 videos on YouTube. Judging by the number of views, which are comparatively small, the audience for these teaser videos hasn’t metastasized to its full viral potential (& yes, all the metaphorical uses of ‘viral’ seem totally appropriate here!).

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These teaser videos play deliciously with the premise of an unidentified growing, global infection by giving us snippet videos that hint at attacks or increased airport securitization & travel disruptions. This one below is a genius riff on the popularity of dashboard video cameras in Russia.Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 9.05.38 AM

Props to the transmedia designers for creating multi-lingual videos both from the ‘Official’ CrisisZero headquarters broadcasting to an affected/infected global audience and for the videos shared by alarmed citizens from around the world (India, Germany, Spain, Denmark, New Zealand). That a number are without subtitles for the English-speaking audience or have subtitles in other languages (French, Spanish) adds to the veracity of what are often the last messages these individuals will send.

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Meanwhile, the Facebook updates are tracking the growing scale of the airport shutdowns so with 4 days to go, I’ll be watching to see how the tipping point into global chaos of a zombie apocalypse is staged in this clever campaign.

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