10 Steps to Making an Effective TV Commercial

Key points to cover when you're making a commercial

Family watching television together
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Television commercials aren't necessarily the powerhouse advertising tools you might think they are. There's no guarantee that your message will reach millions of people, and commercials can present their own unique problems.

This doesn't mean that television shouldn't be part of your marketing mix, but it requires some strategic thought first. Then you can develop a great idea and refine it until it becomes something people want to watch—or at least find hard to ignore.

The Initial Roadblocks in Making a Commercial

You might pay a premium price for a primetime spot, but this doesn't guarantee viewership. DVRs allow viewers to fast-forward through ads. Some set-top boxes will skip ads altogether.

Smartphones, tablets, picture-in-picture TVs, VR gaming, and HD consoles make it very difficult to keep eyeballs on the TV during ad breaks even when they're not being skipped. Your ad might be playing in millions of homes, but only 1% of households are actually watching it.

These are some formidable hurdles, so you have to make a great ad if you're going to overcome them.

© The Balance 2018

Step 1: What's the Big Idea? 

TV can be expensive. You're going to spend a big chunk of your budget from purchasing time to making the spot, so you need a big idea that will get people looking at your product or service—and better yet, talking about it.

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 said it all: "Our Blades Are F**cking Great!" It wasn't an expensive commercial to shoot, but it got 22.5 million views on YouTube.

Do something incredible, and people will gravitate toward it. 

Step 2: Write a Great Script 

You have a great idea. Now you have to script it out. You don't have to be an advertising genius, but it helps to watch commercials that are similar to the concept you've come up with. You'll get a feeling for tone, pacing, and direction. 

You have a very limited time frame to capture your audience, so you have to get your message across quickly. Don't get wrapped up in long sentences. Keep them short and punchy.

Your audio should tell consumers what you're advertising even when they're in another room and can't see the TV. And remember to time out your spot. You'll buy commercials in chunks of time, from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Your script has to fit. Read it aloud several times. Act it out, then cut where you need to cut. 

Step 3: Will You Put People in Your Commercial?

Some breathtaking, eye-catching, successful commercials contain no people at all, but people relate to other people. Putting your target demographic into your commercial rather than a 30-second shot of your building's exterior can help draw in your desired audience.

Avoid having people wave at the camera or standing there grinning because you don't want your commercial to look hokey. 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'll have to hire a production company if your commercial is going to be professional unless you're lucky enough to know people who do this sort of thing for a living. A company can handle all aspects of your commercial, including writing, shooting, and editing.

Shop around for prices, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Look at their reel and see if they have the chops to make your vision come to life.

Step 5: Plan Out Your Shots

Carefully plan every shot. Your furniture store might sell 10 different kinds of recliners, eight living room sets, and six bedroom sets, and you might want to feature them all, but you're going to have to narrow those shots down.

You simply can't get them all into a 30-second or even a one-minute commercial, at least not without flashing so many different pieces of video that you daze your potential customers. Wide shots of your showroom are good if you want to display a lot at once, and you can zero in on a few items that you want to be featured alone.

Step 6: Audio and Video Must Match 

You don't want to use video of the current year's models when you're talking about new car models arriving. You don't want to show your building from the street when you're talking about your big showroom of furniture. Merge and match your audio and video to create a powerful sales tool.

Step 7: Stick to Time 

As tempting as it might be to try to squeak in an extra few seconds, it just won't work. Your commercial must time out to the exact duration you've paid for. Going over will only get your all-too-important call to action clipped from the end because those last few seconds are the ones that will be cut off when your commercial airs. 

Step 8: Always Use a Call to Action 

Pepsi and Nike are two examples of companies that can pour millions into branding ads. These spots introduce a product or service to the public without asking for any kind of sale. You don't yet have the money or resources to simply produce a pure branding spot. You need a call to action.

Your call to action gets customers to buy or act now. Use the end of your commercial to tell customers to visit you today. Give your complete contact information, including your website address, phone number, and street address. Give a quick line about how to find you if necessary.

Step 9: Schedule Your Ad Strategically 

Placement of your commercial is also very important. It determines who will see it and how much you'll pay for the airtime.

Having your commercial air at 3 am. will save you money, but it's not money well spent if you're not reaching anyone. The same holds true for the station you're airing your ad on. You don't want to schedule air time on ESPN with your local cable company if you're advertising your maternity clothing store.

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. Identify the key times your ad should run, then buy enough airtime for your commercial to reach your audience at least twice during those times. Even more times would be ideal.

And remember to produce support materials for your ads: A website or landing page or a brochure should be ready to go to capture the consumers you've engaged.