Tron in transmedia
by Ana Vasile et Olivier Godest , published on 10.02.2011
Soon after the release of Tron: Legacy in France, we’ve tried to retrace the complicated construction of its transmedia promotional campaign. The film, which came out in December in the US, takes place in a rich universe with a real transmedia potential and a large community of fans.
The origin of the universe
We discovered the roots of the Tron phenomenon in 1982 with Steven Lisberger’s film and arcade game that were released at the same time. Unfortunately for him, this first film was a quasi-commercial flop, only appealing to a young male audience. Back then, the director explained to The New York Times that his film couldn’t be “digested” by the masses at that point in time. But this first film set up a universe, which first opened the way for about ten videogames exploiting this license, and the film became a visual and mythological reference for the fans of the videogame.
Production objectives for Tron : Legacy
Even if the Disney producers could count on the young players and on a pre-existing community, they had to draw in a wider audience to get a return on an investment of almost 350 million dollars for the development, production and marketing of Tron: Legacy. The goal was clear, Tron: Legacy wants to measure itself to other American super productions such as Avatar, to be come a referential franchise of its time (and of course, to be profitable).
This is why, for the last three years, the film’s producers have been busy creating interest among internet users in the Tron community with many teasers, previews, online bonuses and marketing tricks of all kinds.
A transmedia promotion
Tron: Legacy’s transmedia promotion is based on events, ARGs, partnerships with stars, media partnerships, applications for mobiles and tablets, videogames and other product placements.
There are several entry points to the universe, developed to reach a mainstream audience (who doesn’t know about the story or the existing universe of Tron). One example of this is appealing to the fan base of Daft Punk, who created the original soundtrack of the film.
Each element of the transmedia system is conceived to encourage an optimal circulation of the audience, the final goal being to encourage a wide audience to go see the movie.
Let’s note that we are not talking about cross-media here: the film’s producers created contents that are almost entirely independent from each other while belonging to a coherent narrative universe, that encourage participation and commitment depending on the different media systems described below.
Details of the transmedia system
History repeats itself: like they did in 1982, Disney studios decided to launch the film with a videogame.
Tron: Evolution is conceived by Propaganda Games, a Canadian company affiliated with the Walt Disney group. The proximity between the film production and the company developing the videogame seemed like a good step to encourage editorial coherence, but we found the result ambivalent.
Chronologically, the game is distributed before the film as a promotional tool, a similar approach to Avatar and its game developed by Ubisoft. In an interesting logic, the storyline takes place in the backstories of the main narrative. This should normally be an efficient foretaste to discover another aspect of the story (the independence of the media is respected).
Unfortunately, the production of the game disappointed fans enormously, especially because of a gameplay lacking sophistication as well as editorial and graphic incoherencies.
The Tron: Legacy ARG
Phase 1: Kevin Flynn is still alive!
July 2009: Several sites/blogs dedicated to film or to Tron fans received two videogame chips similar to those of 1982 and a USB key, containing hidden links to websites evoking the return of Kevin Flynn, the hero of Tron’s first opus (nobody really knows what happens to him at the end of the movie).
Phase 2: Tron Operation
An ARG begins, which will finish at the end of February 2010, the players are the first to discover the film’s trailer in the movie theatre, in Imax 3D.
It’s also the beginning of the second part of the ARG, the players go looking for Kevin Flynn! Websites are regularly updated, new sites appear, players discover online games, the first graphic elements hidden in the sites’ codes, flashcodes, and are invited to events linked to the story.
Phase 3: Tron at Comic Con
In July 2010, the Twitter account of Tron: Legacy is opened during San Diego’s Comic Con (one of the greatest American events for “geeks” that are fans of SF)
New fax/email elements or Flickr photos are added online and unveil new puzzles to resolve and access a new trailer exclusively.
Phase 4: The end of the game
On October 28th 2010, Tron Night 2010 unveils 23 minutes of the film to the greatest fans and game participants.
New puzzles unveil even more of the story’s elements, especially backstories.
Of course, the ultimate reward was to win a ticket for the December 13th 2010 sneak preview of the film, four days before its official release.
Product placement and brand partnerships
In the film, Sam Flynn uses the Nokia N8 to hack the software of the Encom company, his phone is a key element of the film that allows him to be connected to the Internet everywhere.
Adidas created a Tron Legacy collection targeting men and children. At the , which will be followed with a Stan Smith II CF BL4 – Tron model.
Reebok (owned by Adidas) also has a partnership with Disney, creating Tron version Pumps.
The partnership between Coca Cola Zero and the film leads to an immersive iPhone game: “Live Cycle”. Using all the visual and audio codes of Tron: Legacy, the player has to trace virtual walls within reality. The goal will be to win points by inciting other players to break the walls that you’ve built. The game also gives access to additional film content, like the possibility of downloading screen savers and watching trailers.
England – November 2010
For the world premiere, London was the playground of the Tron: Legacy virtual world for a whole week in November 2010. In a partnership with HP and ePrint, Disney producers brought the experience to the roof of the Queen Elisabeth Hall on the SouthBank. attracted the interest of Londoners on a daily basis, two weeks before the projection of Tron: Legacy in Great Britain.
Fans could receive their own photos taken in front of the Flynn arcade on the spot, printed on HP e-All-in-One printers. A doorway to Flynn’s digital world was set up as well as a Light Cycle motorcycle.
Norway – December 2010
After the London projection, it’s the city of Oslo in Norway that welcomed the Tron: Legacy show. For 5 minutes, the windows of a building in Solli Plass lit up to the sound of the Derezzed music by Daft Punk.
France – January 2011
In Paris, a giant 400m2 screen with electroluminescent technology was set up at the Porte de Saint-Ouen. The screen was visible from the highway until the end of January. The giant screen used the same technology as the Adidas shoes presented at the Comic Con.
Partnership with the stars
The partnerships that Disney set up with the stars go beyond simple creative contracts. The most important one is, of course, the partnership with Daft Punk, who created the film’s whole soundtrack, even appearing as guest stars in the film. The partnership became a bridge to a wider audience for the film’s creators. A choice that was reinforced by the harmony between the graphic and audio universe created by the group and the film. In July 2010, the film’s producers released 6 songs (out of 24) online, a good way to create excitement!
The Black Eyed Peas also used a in their latest tour, the film’s “Lightcycle”. Even their performance during the Super Bowl was a wink to the world of Tron. Rihanna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are also following the trend with outfits inspired by the film. Donatella Versace is showing a in Milano.
The emphasis on the Tron: Legacy costume as a new fashion trend is a way of attracting a female audience to the film.
Mobile and tablet applications
( Iphone and Ipad sources)
Three mobile applications (not a bad start!) were created around the universe of Tron: Legacy.
The first is entitled “Tron: Live Cycle”: developed with Coca Cola, as we mentioned above.
The second in entitled “Tron”: the free application allows players to play moonlight and tank games in 2D.
The third entitled “Tron: Legacy”: more elaborat and costing 0,79€, allows players to play moonlight games or to do “reconnaissance” flights in 3D.
For the tablet version (IPad), we have…3 more applications!
The first, “Tron: Legacy” is very similar to the paying Iphone app in a 3D version, with very few changes other than an adaptation to a larger screen.
The second, “Essential Guide to Tron”: is free, it explains, through a beautiful and rich interface, all the details of the universe. It also contains all the trailers. A real success.
The third, “Tron: Legacy, The Complete Story”: if you prefer to read a digital book telling you the story of the second Tron opus, it will cost you 6,99€.
Web partnerships in France
In partnership with Nokia, on MSN.fr, an editorial feature was created in the “Entertainment” section, presenting bonus content (video, behind the scenes footage, interview and anecdotes). In parallel, a game is organized on the Facebook page.
On skyrock.com, another partnership has been set up to create a Tron Skyblog with a Flash system, which includes a video layout that interacts with the film’s trailer.
Despite some faults, an enormous system has been set up, while maintaining a global coherence of the universe. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list since the promotion campaign has been absolutely enormous. If you have other elements that you’d like to share, don’t hesitate to do so!
Tron: Legacy has deployed an interesting strategy to address different targets and a large audience, but the risk is to scratch the Tron mythology and alienate hardcore fans.
The transmedia promotion mechanism seems impressive but brings up a real question: by using mostly transmedia marketing rather than real transmedia storytelling, doesn’t the story end up getting crushed by the Hollywood machine? On opening weekend, Disney made 44 million dollars, placing Tron: Legacy on top of the American box-office. In comparison, Avatar made 77 million dollars in the same time frame. As we speak, Tron: Legacy has already brought in 372 million dollars from theatre tickets.