Interactive Graphic Novels: A Hybrid Advertising Technique

By Mike Ayer
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |


A content analysis was used to determine implications regarding the above research questions. Since IGNs are new and relatively unstudied, this research took an exploratory approach.

Five interactive graphic novels were selected for the content analysis. Each IGN was found by searching “interactive graphic novel” via Twitter. The pool found through the Twitter search was narrowed to include IGNs that related to a particular brand or concept. The first five located were used in the present study. The researcher coded the IGNs for six categories. They are type of message and the following five categories.

Narrative Structure

It was necessary to record the narrative structure to bring to light Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm and to note whether persuading through storytelling can be applied to this research. In the current study, IGNs can either be linear or non-linear. Linear stories consist of a fixed plot that cannot be altered, while non-linear refers to a plot that can be altered.

Level of Interactivity

This researcher recorded the level of interactivity to see if different levels of interactivity impacted popularity, length, or other aspects of IGNs. Three levels of interactivity were considered:

  • A low level of interactivity requires a user to simply click through or scroll through content like turning a page in a book.
  • A medium level of interactivity is classified as having the ability to zoom, parallax-scrolling features, the ability to interact with the content in some way, sound effects, videos, etc.
  • A high level of interactivity is classified as giving the users the ability to change the outcome of the narrative structure (non-linear).

Rich-Media Features

Rich-media features refer to the way in which various media is presented. Examples include:

  • Pop-ups: content that automatically appears at a certain point in the story
  • Animation: moving graphics
  • Audio: background audio and pre-timed audio
  • Videos: clickable videos that offers more content
  • Illustrations

Twitter posts

Many web developers and content designers regularly share content that they find interesting with their social networks. For this reason Twitter posts were recorded to gauge online popularity for each IGN used in this study. The number of positive posts was recorded.


Each IGN is measured as short, medium, or long, depending on its total length. A short IGN generally takes less than one minute to complete; less then two minutes for a medium IGN, and more than two minutes for a long IGN.

Findings and Discussion

Appealing to Multiple Perceptual Systems

New web technologies give developers and marketers the power to add sound and interactivity to static and moving visuals like never before. It is evident through this research that appealing to multiple perceptual systems increases the effectiveness of a communicated message. IGNs have the ability to better immerse users into storylines on a deeper level than traditional narratives and literary devices. Eisner (1985) states that pictorial writings give readers a chance to become active participants in stories by presenting content in graphically appealing and stimulating ways, such as through the use of speech bubbles or comic book like scenes. The IGNs used in this research paper commonly used sound, touch and feel through interactivity, and visuals so that they can appeal to different human senses and make a narrative more interesting and engaging. Wurman (2000) states that “Interaction with information is what enables possession.” One can conclude that the more senses targeted through IGNs, the more likely an audience member will absorb the information.

Using Sound To Create Mood

Sound was present in a number of the IGNs used in this research. In many cases, background sound was used to set the mood. In the case of The Walking Dead - Zombiefied, developers incorporated the show’s opening title audio sequence to help users further connect to the show. This music was played throughout. Peugeot HYbrid4 played timed audio arrangements as users scrolled through the narrative. Each scene would trigger and repeatedly play audio relevant to the activated scene. Ryse Digital Interactive Graphic Novel Issue 1 used audio on specific interactive elements. Users clicked on a character and relevant audio would play.

Pacing and Visuals

Primary research uncovered that visuals were enhanced mainly by user-controlled movement. Similar to traditional video, images within IGNs have the ability to move around screen in pre-determined ways to create a more aesthetically pleasing experience. Unlike traditional video, however, IGNs give users the ability to control the pace. In America: Elect! graphics are enhanced by using the parallax scrolling technique. George-Palilonis and Spillman (2013) stated that people could more accurately remember content when they were in control of the rate at which information was consumed. This phenomenon can be used to create more memorable messages in online and mobile advertisements where the user has the ability to impact the pace of information consumption without disrupting the narrative.

Advertising and marketers can use the findings on interactivity and pacing to develop tactics that could potentially replace traditional online commercials. Adding interactive elements to web commercials, like those seen on, could potentially have a huge impact on message communication and online advertising.

IGNs and Social Sharing

Twitter posts were recorded to cross-examine IGNs and their online popularity. This cross analysis was important to gain insights on how social media can increase ad value. Two occurrences were observed:

  1. The level of interactivity and Twitter posts were positively correlated.
  2. Length and Twitter posts were negatively correlated.

The positive correlation between the level of interactivity and Twitter posts is most likely due to their novelty aspect. Radford and Bloch (2011) found that people showed positive responses to novel products when compared to products that they were familiar with. IGNs with a high level of interactivity suggest that people were more excited to interact with the advanced technology and less excited about IGNs categorized as having a low level of interactivity. The Walking Dead - Zombiefied, which had the most rich-media features in the selected sample, had the most number of tweets.

The negative correlation between length and Twitter posts may be explained by online users’ short attention span. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span for an online user is only eight seconds (“Attention Span Statistics”). Ryse Digital Interactive Graphic Novel Issue 1, the longest IGN included in this study, also had the least number of Twitter posts. The Walking Dead - Zombiefied, considered a short IGN, had the most. .

IGNs And the Uses and Gratification Theory

In a previous section, this research outlined and described the three underlying constructs of the Uses and Gratification Theory: entertainment, informativeness, and irritation. It was stated earlier that the “value of media and entertainment lies in its ability to satisfy a user’s need for escapism, hedonistic pleasure, aesthetic enjoyment, and/or emotional release” (McQuail, 1983). The IGNs studied in this paper show that the inclusion of narrative aspects can enhance a user’s attempt at escapism. By using the traditional comic and graphic novel framework, IGNs allow users to enhance their ability to become active participants in the content. By pairing traditional comic and graphic novel techniques with interactive and rich-media features, developers can add to the overall experience and immerse the user into the content on a deeper level where he/she can have a deeper emotional response.

Recommendations For Future Research

This researcher found it interesting that the short attention spans of online users could have an impact on the popularity of online content and the message retention of an advertisement. The attention span of online users was not a key element to this research. However, studying the effect that rich-media and interactivity has on the average attention span of online users would possibly yield important results for crafting online ad content.

It would also be beneficial for future research to focus on interactive advertising in an attempt to find value in replacing traditional online advertising such as web commercials and online banners with interactive content, while focusing on how interactive elements impact ad effectiveness and user response.


In summation, the present study supports the notion that IGNs are a sustainable tactic for advertising and marketing professionals with the means to create them. If anything, IGNs ability to appeal to multiple human senses makes it a powerful tool to communicate messages. IGNs are also able to harness the power of persuading through storytelling. At the present time, IGNs are a rather new concept, so online users have repeatedly praised them. Attempting to harness the power of social media will continue to serve as a challenge to advertising and marketing professionals.

It should be noted that some IGNs had a social media feature, so users can automatically post a tweet about the IGN. Also, future research can include more IGNs to gain more generalizable insights.


Dr. Neemah Clark was the research advisor of this paper.


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