As I think more about this concept of the Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU), I wondered if this was an idea that worked for things like science fiction stories (Star Wars) or video games (Halo) especially well, but maybe not for the vast majority of brands, properties and franchises. But the more I thought about it, the more I see it across a wide variety of brands. I think presidential candidate Barack Obama is a great example of a brand that quickly developed a DINU with truly remarkable results.
The development of Obama’s DINU has worked because not only has he been consistent with his message, but his supporters have embellished and built upon the foundation in a way that has meshed incredibly well. But, first, let’s take a look at what was most people’s first exposure to Obama, his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention:
So he’s established his universe: A dynamic speaker with an odd name who is going to change the way the game is played. He’s piqued your interest because he’s offering something uniquely different. But not so different that you can just dismiss him. So, now, you want to know more about him, dig deeper into this Universe. Just about this time his first book, Dreams of My Father is republished. More of the Universe is revealed, more foundation is set from which to build upon as we learn his backstory.
Fast forward to 2007 and now Barack Obama is running for president. As an anti-establishment candidate, he deftly embraces social media and the power of consumers who not only are sick of politics as usual, but are hungry to produce, not just consume.
First, we see Obama Girl:
Not perfectly on message for the Obama campaign, but it opens the doors. Now, things that were never associated with political campaigns are available. People have license to participate.
The media begins to provide threads to the narrative as well, as Andrew Sullivan pens a defining piece in The Atlantic:
Obama himself continues to build the DINU, as his second book, The Audacity of Hope starts to get traction. More parts of the Universe come into focus, and new territories open for exploration. As the primary season begins and Obama scores a suprising victory in Iowa, the narrative changes. The unknown, no-hoper, suddenly becomes a vessel for the hopes and dreams of many, and we go from Obama Girl to something entirely different:
Wait a second, now we have to reevaluate what we thought about consumer-generated campaign videos. Will.i.am and a host of Hollywood celebrities collaborate to produce a video of a quality that the campaign itself would be proud of, but the fact that it wasn’t created by the Obama campaign fits perfectly in his narrative. This campaign is about his supporters, not about him. Again, new territories are opened for the narrative. Soon, remarkable campaign posters are created, again not by the campaign, but by artists like Shepard Fairey, the guy behind Obey Giant:
Or clever tweaks like this one:
Obama, Irish? Only in a DINU do people have the permission to do so (note – as some commenters noted, Obama may in fact have Irish blood through his mom. But still, you get the point). Somehow you want to believe that yeah, he is Irish (or Jewish, or Chinese…) because Obama has embraced the concept of consumer generation. Each time he does so, he gives persmission for someone else to build new parts of his DINU. How revolutionary is that for a political candidate? Where are the spin masters and handlers, managing his every word and image? How can they let this happen? Because they have accepted and embraced it as part of his narrative. This is so powerful and a big reason he is in the position that he is in right now. Yes, people bought in to him, but he bought in to them just as much, and in doing so he strengthened and grew his Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe. His story just sounds like a movie doesn’t it?
His speeches, their words and cadence just lend themselves to music. Music and politics have had an interesting history over the last two decades. You’ll recall Bill Clinton used a Fleetwood Mac song to symbolise his younger, hipper campaign when compared to George H. W. Bush. Now, Obama has re-invented the music connection and once again deepened the narrative with his ‘Dirt off your shoulder’ moment, a reference to a Jay-Z song. It took someone about a day to then put together this mash up.
Barack Obama has created a DINU not only delivering a consistent message across a variety of channels, but by laying the foundation for others to build upon it. In that way he is comparable to George Lucas, who built the Star Wars universe that has been so richly developed by others.