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.