How to Make Branded Entertainment Succeed

In the past I’ve highlighted some of the challenges facing branded content.   I’ve also asked if branded content is salvation for producers, who are struggling to maintain relevance at a time when distribution companies are winning the battle for ad dollars.

Ultimately, the challenge boils down to a) producing content that viewers care about; and b) ensuring that distributors will care enough to feature it.  Generally speaking, considering that marketers have sales or branding objectives, branded entertainment tends to morph into a disappointment at best and a failure at worst.

Ok, Enough Excuses, Folks

It’s now 2012, online video isn’t really in its infancy anymore, and we’re running out of excuses on why branded content isn’t the next big thing.  While the pre-roll remains a dominant ad format, it’s clear it remains as user-unfriendly as ever.

With mobile, tablets and out-of-home increasing in importance -- and the 30-second ad not exactly dead just yet -- marketers and producers are all aligned to make branded content work.

I’ll skip some of the obvious (“it can’t feel like a commercial,” etc.) and offer five ways to help branded entertainment succeed:

1) Stand-alone new branded entertainment is bound to fail. By now we’ve all heard how users upload 60 hours of new content on YouTube each minute!  There’s way too much clutter.  As such, creating a brand-spanking-new branded entertainment series faces a massive uphill battle fpr cutting through the noise. 

Suggestion: Identify something that the producer is having success with, and build on that for the client.

2) Big-name talent is an accelerator, not a means to an end. A very large, well-known media company admitted at a conference session that its tests showed users preferred generic voiceovers to celebrities in videos. But marketers still prefer using celebrities for their PR value -- because those kinds of campaigns are more likely to generate press mention (or so marketers think).

While that may in fact be true, the problem is that big-name Hollywood talent still views the Web as second fiddle to television and movies. I think celebrities should augment a program that has legs by itself and can carry on without the celebrities.

Suggestion: Adopt a “donut” approach with celebrities and essentially wrap a layer of stardom around something that is already working and has traction. It’s much smarter to connect a celebrity who is either genuinely interested in the content or fits with the marketer’s target market than to randomly hire a celebrity for star appeal alone.

3) A one-off with ZERO potential of becoming a franchise is a waste of time. My company has produced over 7,000 videos in the past six years, so trust me when I say that it’s hard to come up with a winning formula off the bat. 

However, once you do, success begets success.  Too many branded content efforts are clearly one-time projects that either don’t have the editorial chops to become a recurring theme or require too much to maintain momentum over years.

Suggestion: Ask yourself if viewers would watch the content if it weren’t part of a media plan. 

4) If you need to spend gazillions for people to watch it, you’ve already lost. I know ad agencies like to bill clients for strategy, creative, and media buying. 

I also realize that early on, clients would create a video and expect it to go “big-bang viral” without committing to an advertising budget to support it.

But today, we need to strike a balance between a) not spending anything, and b) spending way too much to promote a branded content series.

I don’t work in ad an agency, so I cannot blindly throw out a ratio among total online budget, amount spent on production and how much should be spent on promoting the branded content series -- but those three spend levels need to make sense.

5) Scripted entertainment vs. Infotainment. Conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t make branded videos look like an ad. Well, I understand that this makes sense in theory, but then ad agencies interpreted this as “let’s make a scripted entertainment piece” and either 1) go with random product placement or 2) write the product into the script. 

Hmm… no.  Please.  Stop.  As for the first approach, random product plugs are tacky (GIVE ME CASH); even worse, they’re ineffective -- see, you didn’t give me cash.

As for the second approach, only marketing people think it’s “cool” to see a product written into a script.  Very few people are in marketing compared to the population of average folks who are in your client’s target market.

Marketing is all about being original -- but if being original means doing a disservice to your client, then maybe the obvious solution is the smartest one.


6 comments about "How to Make Branded Entertainment Succeed".
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  1. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from, March 12, 2012 at 3:06 p.m.

    Thanks Paula, you're too kind.

    I'm sure I missed some things...

  2. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 12, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.

    Excellent. As a (hopefull) enlightened creator infomercials, we make a lot of branded entertainment. Or, if you will, branded communication thats quite interesting to watch for the people our clients want to communicate with. So I can confirm these are excellent truths.

    In particular, the final point. My book includes a chapter about how badly ad agencies mess up anything longer than a :30 second spot (just look at the miserable :120 ads Chiat/Day did for Nissan...yawn). Typical agency arrogance, though, won't let most agency creatives sit back and listen to their ideas with an open mind to how it's really going to sound.

    Fortunately, there are people who "get it" and they're the ones that will succeed.

  3. Melzetta Williams from Melzetta Williams, Web TV Strategist, March 12, 2012 at 7:21 p.m.

    Great post! My only issue is that in introducing method #5, (scripted entertainment vs. infotainment) you don''t offer solutions.

    Can you give examples of how infotainment can work?

  4. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from, March 12, 2012 at 8:04 p.m.


    re: #5 could be something like featuring a vodka brand in either how to pieces like drink recipes OR lifestyle sponsorship on nightlife destinations.


  5. Melzetta Williams from Melzetta Williams, Web TV Strategist, March 13, 2012 at 4:47 p.m.

    OK, that's what I thought. The Garden Party web series is an example of that.

    As for scripted branded web entertainment -- I'm one of those marketing professionals who thinks -- or thought -- it was cool to do it that way. Your post gives me pause.

    I think we run into problems trying to treat the web differently from the early years of TV. Back then, someone created a series, then found sponsors whose customer base would enjoy that type of program. Should be no different now.

  6. Becky Sangha from The Online Video Marketer, March 13, 2012 at 7:33 p.m.

    Excellent line in the post: "total online budget, amount spent on production and how much should be spent on promoting the branded content series -- those three spend levels need to make sense." More businesses need to think about this before leaping into production. I see many people putting all their money into 1 production that doesn't generally give them the branding exposure they want.

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