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Instagram meets beard to build brand Edmonton

Transmedia storytelling project uses augmented reality to drive tourism to the next generation

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Jun 18, 2014

by Tim Querengesser

Recently, Edmonton’s cafés and patios were awash in talk of that “hot guy with the beard.” He was popping up on the street with cameras around him, then on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and even better, word was he was a famous model from New York. This buzz was intentional. Umar Akbar, a 31-year-old Edmonton artist with experience in publishing and marketing, brought in Chris John Millington, a 24-year-old Scottish model who looks like Sean Connery might if he were a bearded hipster – and who has a lot of social media followers – to star in his latest project, an augmented story about Edmonton called ‘YEGWeekend.’


But the buzz was not aimed only at Edmonton. You see, Akbar, Millington and Tiffany Mitchell, a 28-year-old food stylist from New York, who Akbar also flew in for the project, were breaking new ground in business, tourism and marketing. How? By employing something called transmedia storytelling.

What’s that? Akbar describes ‘YEGWeekend’ as “The augmented reality magazine created from an Instagram storyworld of Edmonton in 3.2 days and the search for one Albertan to join us.” What that means, in simpler terms, is that a ‘YEGweekend magazine’ will be published in September that contains added multimedia features. By using Layar, an augmented reality platform, maps of Edmonton from the magazine will come alive once peered at with a user’s smartphone. Within these maps, which Akbar describes as his “narrative storyworld,” Millington, Mitchell and others (including one Albertan, who has yet to be selected) will suddenly be seen whooping it up in establishments in local neighbourhoods like Garneau, Strathcona, Oliver and downtown.


Advertisers do not pay for celebrity appearances (though they sort of got those during filming) Akbar says, but instead pay for a 15-second video that comes to life when using Layar and the ‘YEGWeekend’ magazine. Akbar says he’s essentially taken the Yellowpages approach – local businesses advertising around one another to gain eyeballs – and made it new by employing transmedia storytelling.

But what looks like a local business marketing success – and one that is now, in part, funded by Edmonton Tourism, which sees its potential for building brand Edmonton – is much more. Indeed, ‘YEGweekend’ has multiple layers that extend internationally, Akbar says. Millington is famous, with well more than 179,000 followers on Instagram. Mitchell is also young, creative and multi-talented with a global reach of 100,000 page views on her blog and 34,000 followers on Instagram.

Abercrombie & Fitch repost on Instagram of a Duchess photo

Abercrombie & Fitch repost on Instagram of a photo from YEGWeekend

During his filming in Edmonton, what Akbar calls “microwaves” of interest happened as Millington’s and Mitchell’s movements were tracked around the world by their social media fan bases. Several Edmonton businesses saw quick spikes in the number of followers they have on social media, Akbar says (indeed, one has seen its wares featured in an Abercrombie & Fitch Instagram shot). In today’s world, that is worth money. “We’re noticing a ton of coverage out of this,” Akbar says.

What’s the creative spark that led to this? Akbar says he has done time in the publishing industry but wants to explore the creative frontiers new technologies bring to it. “I wanted to give it a kind of crazy ROI,” he says.

One Response to Instagram meets beard to build brand Edmonton

  1. Don says:

    How is this different from buying friends?