This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business.
American adults spend an astonishing amount of time watching TV—35.5 hours per week, to be exact. And while you may wonder if television advertising is dead in the new world of streaming commercial-free programming, local TV advertising still works. However, there are a number of steps and costs involved in a campaign’s production, which can make it a less attractive option for some businesses. Here is a quick overview of the process:
1. Determine Your Production Method
You can choose to produce your commercial yourself, work with your local broadcast or cable company, or work with a media company to create your ad. Each choice offers a different production process and fits different budgets. Consider the costs and advantages of each before choosing the one that suits your needs and budget.
Here are the three main options when choosing how to produce a TV ad:
- Do it yourself: If you want to go to the DIY route, you will need to purchase or rent professional audio and video equipment, hire a production staff, and hire actors. If you have experience, you could use this option to save money. However, we don’t recommend this option unless you have production experience.
- Work with your local broadcast or cable company: This is a good option for small business owners since your local station should have a production team on staff to help you with your commercial. They will sometimes work the cost to produce the commercial into the cost of your ad spots, especially if you are planning to spend money over a long period of time.
- Work with a media agency: If you choose to use an agency to help you with an ad buy, you can also use them to help produce your commercial. Ask for samples of ads that they have created before so you know what quality you can expect and determine pricing before beginning any projects.
The best option for most businesses is to hire an advertising agency. This helps ensure your ad is designed strategically and produced professionally in order to get the most out of your advertising spend. Still, it’s good to have a general understanding of how TV advertising works, so we recommend you continue reading the following steps even if you do choose to hire a media agency to help you launch a national campaign.
2. Brainstorm Ad Creative
Next, you need to develop your ad creative, which is another way of saying your ad’s story. To do this, you need a big idea and with that, a big message to captivate and connect with an audience, so consider brainstorming ideas with a group. During this process, confirm that television advertising is really the best advertising medium for your business, your advertising goal, your marketing message, and your audience.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when thinking about television advertising:
- What are you ultimately looking to achieve with this TV advertisement?
- Who is your target audience and are they watching television?
- What’s your overall marketing message?
- Can your marketing message be conveyed with a story?
- Can your story be told in under 60 seconds?
- What about in under 30, or even 15 seconds?
- Is your story actually interesting to others?
Keep in mind that one of the perks of hiring an ad agency is that they will handle the ad creative for you. In this process, you will likely meet with the agency to describe your business, what it offers, and what it’s looking to accomplish with TV advertising. Then, the agency will go to work and present different ad ideas to choose from.
Get ideas and inspiration by checking out the best TV commercials.
3. Choose Where to Advertise
Next, consider which networks and TV shows you want your ad to run on. There are so many to choose from, but try to find the one that best reaches your audience. This includes customer age range, interests, and behaviors. For example, the audience tuning in midday on a Tuesday to the QVC shopping network will be different from the audience watching the History Channel.
Here are the primary differences between broadcast and cable networks:
- Broadcast casts a wider net: Because everyone has access to broadcast (as there is no paywall), your ads will show to a wider audience. This means you cannot target your advertising as well, but if your goal is general brand awareness, this is a good fit.
- Cable targets by interest: TV shows that air on cable can attract a very specific audience. For example, there is a big difference between the interests of those who watch The History Channel and those who watch MTV.
Determine which is best for your business and advertising goal by looking at your target audience’s demographics and thinking about which is the better fit. This includes customer age range, interests, and behaviors. For example, the audience tuning in midday on a Tuesday to QVC shopping network will be different from the audience watching the History Channel.
4. Create Content for Your TV Ad
Now that you have your target audience, your chosen network, and your marketing message in place, the fun part begins: ad creative. You need a big idea and with that, a big message to captivate and connect with an audience. Of course, there are a million different ways you could tell your story, so brainstorm and develop ideas that will catch an audience’s attention, hold their attention, and resonate with them.
- Story: Your commercial is ultimately a story. So determine your overarching story, its premise, and what type of emotions or actions you want it to incite from its audience.
- Script: A television ad is produced a lot like a movie or television show in that it involves writing a script. You need to have a script produced and perfected prior to production. Try reading the script out loud to hear how it flows and try to make it connect with an audience.
- Shots: In addition to writing out your script, you will also create a list of shots. Similar to screenwriting, you need to include not just the lines, but what each scene should look like.
- Talent: TV advertisements require TV talent, whether that’s in form of actors or professional illustrators. This is another example of why hiring an ad agency is the best bet for most, as the agency will handle all of the hiring for you.
- Production team: Behind great TV ads are great production teams. This includes teams that are experienced, have professional production equipment, and video editing expertise.
To create content for your ad, you must determine your likely production process (including producing it yourself, working with a local broadcast or cable company, or working with a media agency), gather your production resources and talent, determine your ad length, and include essential information like business contact information and a call to action or offer.
5. Buy Television Ad Spots
There are two main options when it comes to purchasing TV ads. You could purchase them directly from your local broadcast station or cable provider, or if you’re working with an ad agency, the agency will do the purchasing on your behalf. Consider both options before making a purchase.
Purchase From a Local Provider
Once you’ve decided on where you want to advertise, you can contact your local TV station or local cable provider directly. They will assign you an account executive who will help you through the process of the media buy.
The major differences in how media is sold between local broadcast and local cable are:
- Sales by location: Broadcast television is sold by designated market area (DMA), while cable can be purchased by zone (cluster of towns). DMAs are much larger than zones, so cable allows you to target a smaller geographic area.
- Sales by ad air time: Cable stations generally focus on selling “rotator” spots (in which you don’t know exactly when your commercial will air). For example, a prime-time spot may air anytime between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Broadcast tends to focus on selling commercials that appear during specific shows at specific times.
Deciding which option to choose for your business depends on your specific advertising goals. If you have a small budget and are looking to promote to a specific location, we suggest going with broadcast advertising. Although fewer people will see your ad, the ones who do will be in the same geographical location (zone) as your business. You will also be paying less for the ad spot, so you will have more money to advertise multiple times.
Work With an Advertising Agency
One benefit of working with an advertising agency is gaining access to their existing network of TV contacts. This often means better deals for you. In fact, John Harper from Bruce Media says, “Traditionally, we will negotiate the best deal for our clients and then get paid a commission by the media vendor (TV stations and networks, for example) for bringing them the business. We can also work on a retainer basis wherein a client would pay us a flat fee for coordinating their media buys.”
Pro tip: You can save a lot by taking advantage of fire sales. Although rare, fire sales allow you to purchase advertising packages well in advance of an ad’s air time for a low price. These packages often include spots that may otherwise be too expensive for small businesses. If you can’t find any fire sales, keep in mind that you can always try negotiating for a lower price or buying time slots well in advance.
Who Television Advertising Is Right For
As great as television advertising is, it’s not for every business or every marketing goal. You’re not alone if you dream of seeing your business’ advert come across the screen during the Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to spend six figures. There’s a reason why TV commercials are dominated by nationwide businesses such as insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and travel providers. But let’s take a look at who TV ads are best for.
Here are the common threads to what makes a business a good candidate for TV ads:
- National company or brand
- Wide demographic
- Mature brands that wants to stay top of mind
- High customer lifetime value
- Simple marketing message
- Those looking to become a household name
- To reinforce a strong brand personality
That said, television advertising isn’t right for a lot of businesses and marketing goals. For example, a local dental office would likely find pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, such as Google Ads, a more efficient use of ad spend. On the other hand, an international private jet charter company may also not find advertising on TV to be a strategic use of money given that the audience on television is too broad, and it’s therefore not good for reaching its target audience.
Best TV Advertising Alternatives
TV ads aren’t the best advertising channel for every business or every ad campaign. Maybe TV ads won’t effectively reach your target audience or that the cost of TV ads are just too much. If you are just starting your new business, consider first trying out alternatives such as radio advertising, newspaper ads, PPC ads, and social media advertising, such as Facebook or Pinterest Ads.
Television Advertising Alternatives Costs
Sources: SmallBizTrends, Skyworks Marketing
According to the Small Business Administration, one 30-second television commercial during prime-time viewing (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) can cost 10 to 30 times more than one radio spot during drive time (which is considered prime listening time) or a full page ad in the newspaper. The cost to start advertising your small business online is even less expensive, since you can set your budget as low as $1 per day on Facebook and Google.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you know if a TV advertisement is effective?
Once your television advertising campaign has been launched, measure its success by tracking engagement via the unique URL or phone number you created for the ad, asking customers how they heard about you, or measuring sales during your campaign. If you skip this step, then you won’t know if the money spent was worth it, and you’ll be left guessing whether or not television advertising is a good use of your budget.
How much does TV advertising cost?
TV advertising is not the most affordable way to market a business. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive advertising channels with a large upfront investment. The cost comes down to two main components: ad production and distribution. The cost to produce a television commercial can be anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to over $50,000. The average cost of a TV ad is around $115,000, but it can cost millions. Learn more about TV advertising costs.
What is product placement advertising?
Product placement advertising is when a business pays to have their product featured in a TV program. For a small business, an inexpensive placement option is within a game show like “The Price Is Right.” The advantage is that people won’t be fast-forwarding through your product placement, since it is during the TV program. In addition, it is also very focused on your product as opposed to being a subtle mention or logo placement.
What are the advantages of TV advertising?
TV advertising reaches a very large audience in a short period of time compared to other traditional advertising mediums like newspaper and radio. You can also advertise by appealing to more viewer senses via visual and audio elements. This makes your ad more memorable and persuasive. As a result, studies show consumers regard TV advertising as the most influential advertising type in their purchase decisions.
TV advertising involves running a 15- to 60-second branded video that airs during TV show breaks during a scheduled program. It often showcases products and services and tells viewers how to learn more or take advantage of an offer. To create a TV ad, businesses must determine the ad type and placement that align with their audiences, message, and budget, and then create their ads, buy ad spots, and monitor performance.