The Secrets of Great Television Advertising

Television advertising provides a very powerful vehicle for delivering a message about your product or service to the widest audience possible. The visual impact of video simply has a great ability to capture and hold the audience—more so than the more static mediums of print or audio media. Although it may seem like a daunting task, you can write and produce your own commercial at a television studio, or at a local college or high school that has an audiovisual department. The costs of producing a 15-, 30-, or 60-second television spot will vary depending upon the sets, special effects, talent, equipment, and crew necessary to pull off your concept.

The cost for placing a television ad depends upon the type of station, the time of day your ad airs, and the ad run frequency. Station types, in order of expense, include UHF, VHF, and local cable access. When determining which time slot to place your ads in, consider any documentaries, features, or sporting events with local content that cater specifically to an audience that would be interested in your product or service.

Remember that the frequency of your ad is as important as the time of day it airs. Running your commercial once or twice a week, for example, is unlikely to generate any response at all.


Q: Can I save money by using short ad spots such as 10- or 20-second airings?

A: No. You shouldn’t run less than 30-second spots. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to have an impact. Short spots are best used for conveying simple messages, such as promoting name recognition for a heavily advertised national brand of detergent.

Q: What about longer ad spots, such as 60-second ones?

A: Conventional wisdom holds that you are better off with standard 30-second spots. Your money will disappear a lot quicker with 60-second spots. However, if you are trying to sell a product, not a service, and are airing a direct response number for immediate action, then 60-second spots may work out better for you. In fact, many direct response television advertisers purchase large chunks of viewing time—sometimes a half hour or more—in which to pitch their products.

Q: Can talking heads be effective?

A: Yes. Just watching a person on television can work. But this is not necessarily a good use of television. If this is your approach, mix in some video of your product being used or video of consumers shopping at your place of business. Otherwise, you may be wasting the medium, and might just as effectively convey your message through radio or print advertising.

Q: Is the cost of television time as negotiable as that of radio time?

A: Pricing for advertising time on local, major market, or national television networks can be negotiated. But there is less price flexibility than is found in radio—especially in national network and major market television.

Television generally sells fewer ad slots than radio does. And major market television stations carry a lot of network advertising, as well as advertising purchased directly in specific markets for national advertisers. Also, there are fewer major broadcast television stations in major markets than there are radio stations.

However, you will find a lot of room for negotiating ad rates with cable television networks. This is particularly true if the station has a lot of “excess inventory,” or unsold spots.

Streetwise Advice

Worth the Expense?

I remember reading a quote from a senior executive at McGraw-Hill, a multibillion-dollar media firm, saying that “television advertising is too rich for our blood.” Well, television is too rich for just about anyone’s blood. The cost of television advertising is usually much higher than that of radio and newspapers, and if you are going to spring for television, you need a product and message that really requires the drama only the medium of television can impart. Television can be a very powerful medium, but you need to design an advertising campaign that is really going to take advantage of the television format.

Remember, too, that a good television ad can be very expensive to produce. Of course, you can do your own talking-head ad and be your own star, but viewers often laugh at these “homegrown” ads. The quality of the presentation will contrast sharply, and negatively, against the slick, national spots produced by Madison Avenue agencies.

Most of us have a secret desire to be television stars. If you decide to be the main attraction in your own commercial, make sure you are doing it for a rational, not an emotional, reason. I once decided to do my own television advertisements. I believed that I was being rational, but on closer review, I wonder whether my decision had anything to do with the fact that my fifth-year business school reunion was happening at the same time! The spots proved ineffective in comparison to the radio spots I later ran.

The Role of Television

Remember, television is generally better than most other mediums for image advertising. It isn’t a particularly great venue for price advertising. It is just not as well suited to directly leading people to buy or inquire about your product or service as other mediums are, such as newspapers or direct mail.

National advertisers, for example, generally use television for image advertising. They sometimes combine a television awareness-building campaign with local price advertising in other media. Typically, local dealers and distributors will place the price advertisements in local papers or on their Internet sites, but the financing will be provided by the national concern. For instance, an automobile manufacturer may run a heavy national television advertising schedule promoting features of a new luxury car without divulging its cost. At the same time, local dealerships may be running newspaper ads that feature a reduced-price offer on the same luxury car.

For a local business, television may be a good add-on medium if used to enhance the impact of price advertising in other mediums. But most of your advertising budget should be expended on Internet, newspaper, radio, or possibly direct-mail exposure.


Television has more impact than radio does, so fewer spots will still suffice in this medium. A minimum of five spots on one station during a week’s period of time is recommended. If possible, air 15 spots on a less popular and less expensive program—this will ensure that you are making a solid impact on your audience.

Local Cable

For local businesses, local cable may be a viable option. The costs are still low in this television venue, and you can really zero in on a specific town or group of towns. Plus, cable subscribers typically have more disposable cash than do nonsubscribers. But even if you find you can buy cable advertising time at a very reasonable price, make sure you put together a great-looking and highly impactful ad, even if you are just testing the medium.

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About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.