What Is Broadcast Advertising?

Is Broadcast Advertising Right for Your Brand?

Filming a TV Infomercial About Cosmetic Products

vm / Getty Images 

In a day and age when people are increasingly annoyed by TV commercials, broadcast advertising has become a challenge for advertising agencies around the world. Products like The Hopper from Dish Network, and other DVRs, make it very easy to skip past broadcast advertisements. Think back to the last time you, as a consumer, sat through a broadcast ad on TV. Did you pay attention? Were you surfing the web on your smartphone, or did you skip to the restroom? Let's be honest, when was the last time you even watched broadcast TV live? Probably a sporting event like the Super Bowl, right?

It is why there is a fine line between grabbing the attention of viewers and irritating them. But in an increasingly desperate effort to grab their attention, the industry is attacking consumers with all the annoying passion and tenacity of a telemarketer on crack. 

However, before getting into the nuts and bolts of the discipline itself, let's take a quick look at the definition of this medium, and what it costs. 


The term broadcast advertising applies to commercials aired on either television or radio, which are typically called spots. It's also known as on-air advertising, and it's the primary revenue generator for commercial television and radio stations. It is all considered to be above-the-line advertising. However, many broadcast ads are now released online at the same time, via a site like YouTube, to increase awareness and defeat the ad-skipping technology in living rooms. 


As an advertiser, you will pay for a spot based on multiple considerations, including length, the time the spot goes out, which channel it is on, and most importantly, which show is airing at that time.

This purchase will be handled by the media department of an advertising agency, or a media buying agency, whose job is to negotiate the best rates and times for the commercials. Spots can vary in length, some being just 5-10 seconds, others going as long as the whole commercial break. However, most spots are either 30 or 60 seconds on television, and 15, 30 or 60 seconds on the radio.

A spot airing in the commercial break of a prime-time show will be costly, whereas spots that air on lesser watched channels after 12 am will be much more affordable, with the price of $5 per 1000 viewers being typical. But, you will get fewer eyeballs on your ad. If you want a massive audience, a Super Bowl spot is the way to go, but the cost of just 30 seconds is going to run around $1-$2 million!

Creating Spots For Broadcast Advertising

Of course, before you buy air, you also have to produce the commercial, too. It's estimated that the average cost of producing a 30-second spot is around $350,000, and that's not including the cost of buying the airtime. But if you're smart, and have a great idea that doesn't require a huge budget, you could produce a spot for as little as $1,000. That would mean excluding any advertising agency and doing it yourself, which is never advisable.

The Infomercial as a Selling Tool

Another form of broadcast advertising that proves very popular for generating sales is direct response television (DRTV). It is advertising that asks for the sale and gives you a way to order direct via information given in the ad. It is not concept-driven advertising, and usually follows the formula of demonstrations and a repetition of benefits.

The late Billy Mays was a master of this craft, generating thousands of dollars per second during a popular spot. There are usually two forms of DRTV, the short form commercial which lasts 1-2 minutes, and the long form version which will last around 30 minutes and often have a live audience, multiple demonstrations and many chances to call and order. The most popular name for this type of advertising is the infomercial.

If you've ever heard the phrase "but wait, there's more" you'll be familiar with the way the infomercial works, when offers are rapidly discounted to encourage people to pick up the phone and call. Ron Popeil, the creator of the Showtime Rotisserie, is a legend in this form of advertising. However, it is frowned upon by most large advertising agencies as being a cheap, down and dirty way to get sales, and is not considered a good way to build a quality brand (would you buy Nike shoes from an infomercial?)

Before the Internet, broadcast advertising was the most popular way to reach a mass-market audience. These days, with the Internet being so widespread, and digital video recorders (DVR) editing out ads, broadcast advertising is not the sacred cow that it used to be.

Should You Opt For Broadcast Ads?

That's like asking how long a piece of string is. For some, broadcast advertising is still a fantastic way to raise awareness and get people talking about the product or service. However, without a link to a website or other direct sales path, it is often considered just an awareness tool, not a sales driver. 

There's also the question of budget. What can you afford? Where can you put it? How many people will see it? Do you spend your entire annual budget on a splashy 30-second Super Bowl spot in the hopes of getting enough awareness to last you all year? Or, do you spread it out, and go small budget but viral?

One thing is for certain. Your spot must be able to live online, and should find a new lease of life there, long after it is not running on TV.