10 Steps to Make an Effective TV Commercial

10 Steps You Need to Take to Make a Great TV Ad

Watching TV
Watching TV. Getty

A television commercial is not the powerhouse advertising medium it used to be. Once, you could throw TV ads on the schedule and know you were reaching millions of people. These days, it's a very different story. Here are the three major problems facing you if you choose to create TV advertising:

1. Ad-Skipping Technology

There are DVRs that fast-allow viewers to fast-forward through the ads. There are set-top boxes that skip ads altogether.

Even if you pay a premium price for a primetime spot, you can no longer guarantee viewership.

2. Many Consumer Distractions

The advent of the smartphone, tablets, picture-in-picture TVs, VR gaming and HD consoles, and a litany of other distractions make it very difficult to keep eyeballs on the TV set during an ad break. Your ad may well be playing in millions of homes, but only 1 percent of households are actually watching it.

3. Advertising Burn Out

People are just done with advertising in general. They are constantly being bombarded with ads on every device they own. Do you want to be adding to that mix? Are you happy piling on to their misery?

Does this mean TV should no longer be part of your marketing mix? Of course not. It should, however, be thought of much more strategically. How will you grab eyeballs? How will you avoid the skip button? How will you stand out in a sea of other commercials all vying for attention?

How will you communicate without annoying people, or being invisible to them? These are questions you must ask before including TV in the campaign plan.

But, once you have decided that TV is a good way to grab your target audience, you need to develop a great idea and refine it until it becomes something that people want to watch, or find hard to ignore.

Step 1: What's the Big Idea?

TV can be expensive. From purchasing time to making the spot, you're going to spend a big chunk of your budget. So, what is the big idea that will get people looking at your product or service? Remember the first Dollar Shave Club ad? The founder of the company starred in his own ad, and proceeded to go WAY over the top. The title of the spot, "Our Blades Are F**cking Great!" says it all. It was not an expensive commercial to shoot. But the content got the ad 22.5 million views on YouTube. There is no reason you can't have the same impact with your spot. Do something incredible, and people will gravitate towards it. 

Step 2: Write a Great Script

You've had a great idea. Now, you need to script it out. You don't have to be an advertising genius to flesh out a great idea. But, it does help to watch commercials that are similar to the concept you have come up with, to get a feel for tone, pacing, and direction. You've got a very limited time frame to capture your audience and you need to get your message across quickly. Don't get wrapped up in long sentences. Keep them short and punchy.

Your audio should also tell the customer what you're advertising even if the customer is in another room and can't see the TV when your commercial airs.

And remember to time out your spot. You buy ads in chunks of time, from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and sometimes longer or shorter than those parameters. Read the ad aloud several times. Act it out. Cut where you need to cut. 

Step 3: Will You Put People in Your Commercial?

There are some breathtaking, eye-catching, successful commercials that contain no people at all. However, people relate to other people. Putting people (especially your target demographic) into your commercial can help draw your target audience in as opposed to a 30-second shot of your building's interior, exterior and the parking lot. You don't want your commercial to look hokey so you do want to be careful about having people waving at the camera or standing there smiling. Always look to professional actors first. If you use friends or relatives, make sure they can pull off the vision you have.

 

Step 4: Hire a Production Company

You want your commercial to be professional, and so unless you are lucky enough to know people who do this for a living, you'll have to hire a production company. They can handle all aspects of your commercial, including writing, shooting and editing your commercial. Shop around for prices. Some production companies are able to offer you a commercial package for as low as $100 that will include still pictures shot with a high-quality video camera. However, you get what you pay for. Look at their reel and see if they have the chops to make your vision come to life. And see if they have the chops to make your vision come to life. 

Step 5: Plan Out Your Shots

You've got the script. You have a cast. You have a location. It's time to shoot this baby... but you must plan every shot. Let's use a furniture store as an example. You may have 10 different kinds of recliners, eight living room sets and six bedroom suites you want to feature. You're going to have to narrow those shots down because you simply can't get them all into a 30-second, 45-second, or even a one-minute commercial, without flashing so many different pieces of video on the screen that your potential customers will feel like they're in a lightning storm.

Wide shots of your showroom are good to get a bunch of your furniture displayed at once and you can select a few items you want to be featured alone. It's crucial you not cram a bunch of video into the small amount of time you have for your commercial. Your video should tell the story about what you're advertising even if a customer has their volume turned down.

Step 6: Audio and Video Must Match

That seems like a no-brainer, but during the editing process, things can get lost in the weeds. When you're talking about new car models arriving, you don't want to see video of the current year's make. When you're talking about your big showroom of furniture, you don't want to see the building from the street. You must merge your audio and video to create a powerful sales tool. Of course, if you have a concept that requires the audio and video to mismatch, for comedy reasons, then you can use that exception to the rule. 

Step 7: Stick to Time

Say you've bought a :30 commercial package. As tempting as it might be to squeak in an extra few seconds, you just can't do it. Your commercial must time out to the exact time you've paid for. Going over will only get your all-to-important call to action clipped because those last few seconds will be cut off when your commercial airs. 

Step 8: Always Use a Call to Action

If you're creating your own commercial, you do not yet have the money or resources to simply produce a pure branding spot. That's one that introduces a product or service to the public, without asking for any kind of sale or "call to action." Pepsi and Nike are two examples of companies that pour millions into branding ads. You don't have that luxury. You need sales AND prospects. 

Your call to action gets customers to buy or act now. Don't get to the end of your commercial and leave off your call to action. You want to tell customers to visit today and give your complete contact information, including Web site address, phone number and street address (giving a quick line about how to find you if possible). 

Step 9: Schedule Your Ad Strategically

Placement of your commercial is very important. It determines who will see your commercial and how much you will pay for its air time. Having your commercial air at 3 am. will save you money but if you don't reach your audience it's not money well spent. The same holds true for the station you're airing your ad on as well. If you're advertising your maternity clothing store, you don't want scheduled air time on ESPN with your local cable company.

Step 10: Ensure Frequency for Maximum Impact

Television is less demanding on frequency than radio but it still deserves more than a one-shot deal. If you were advertising during the Super Bowl, that would be a completely different story. But on the local level, you need to identify the key times your ad should run and buy enough air time for your commercial to reach your audience at least twice. More times would be ideal. And remember to produce support materials for your ads; a website or landing page, a brochure, or a phone number must all be ready to go to capture those customers you have engaged. 

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