5 Ways to Improve Your TV Commercials

23 Aug

By: Larry Roy

Point 3 Media_TOA Campaign

Point 3 Media production still from TOA Commercial Shoot

It’s often said that bad publicity is better than no publicity. When it comes to television advertising, however, that’s not necessarily the case. Sure, “bad” commercials are often talked about more than “good” commercials, but they don’t motivate consumers to do what you want. In fact, they often repel them and—by virtue of all that talk—they can repel their friends, and their friends’ friends!

As much as we complain about them, television commercials still heavily influence our perceptions and our decision-making. They prompt us to form an opinion about companies, products and services. That’s not surprising when you consider that TV commercials, unlike any other medium, are able to utilize sight, sound, motion and emotion to convey a message. As an advertiser, the trick is to convey a message that produces a positive response, not a “have you seen that awful commercial for so-and-so?” response.

So what makes a “good” commercial? Is it simply the dollars spent? No, there have been many high-cost commercials that have produced miserable results.  Is it because they are funny? Sometimes, yes, but humorous commercials often entertain people but leave them completely oblivious to what product or service or company was advertising. So what works and what doesn’t? Well here are just a few tips that may help ensure your television commercials hit their mark.

1. Know Your Audience – Television advertising by design speaks to a wide audience, but your message should cater to your primary audience—those most likely to buy your product or service. Are they men or women? Are they under 30 or over 60? Are they upper income, educated consumers?  Are they selfish or cause-oriented? Families or single people? Of course, your audience can be a mix of some or all of these, but you can draw intelligent conclusions about your primary potential customers from  your current customers. If you want to reach women in the 30’s that are likely married with children, then a commercial that uses bathroom humor as its premise is probably a mistake. Target your message to talk to whom you want most to reach.

Point 3 Media_CMI Vein and Laster

Larry Roy and Sheilah Griggs getting ready for the commercial shoot for CMI Vein and Laser Clinics

2. Define Your Purpose – When I ask a client what they want their television advertising to accomplish, the typical answer is “increased sales”. That’s understandable, the ROI needs to be there. However, often times, the purpose is really something else—it may be a means to an end. If it’s a new product or company, for example, the first objective may be to simply increase awareness, to brand a name and create a good feeling about it. If it’s not a “need right now” product or service, then the objective may be to plant the seed that “we’re here when you need us.”

Maybe the purpose is to drive the consumer somewhere else. The goal of much television advertising today is to move the consumer to a web site, where they can really learn about what the advertiser has to offer. In this instance, the TV commercial does not need to communicate everything about the product. It simply needs to create the want or need to investigate further.

Remember, unless the ONLY advertising you ever do is television, or the ONLY way the consumer can get your product or service is from your TV ads, then don’t view the sole purpose of your TV commercials as increased sales. Clearly define what you want to accomplish first.

3. Streamline Your Message – A television commercial goes by fast. Most are 30 seconds, some are 60 seconds, and many today are only 15 seconds long. As a result, it’s critical that the message you want to get across is concise and well defined. Often times an advertiser will try to cram way too many facts, figures, options, ideas or messages into a single commercial. The typical result? Nothing is remembered. Decide what is the most important thing you want the viewer to remember first, and build around it.

Obviously, the name of the company is assumed to be the most important, but a web address may be even more important if that’s where you want them to go.  If you’re selling a specific product, then focus on that product and avoid the temptation to “throw in” several other offers that dilute the message. If the most important thing you want to impress on the viewer is a feeling, then the entire mood and message should convey that feeling, and nothing else.

4. Quality Over Concept – Television commercial production can be expensive. If the vision for a commercial involves multiple actors, multiple locations, lots of special effects, props and sets, that’s great—if the budget is there to do it right. However, many times the dollars simply aren’t there for the proper execution of a grand concept, and the result is disappointing—to the advertiser AND the consumer. When budgets are limited, I always advise the client to focus on a simple concept, well executed. This starts with the writing. A well-written commercial, like a well-written screenplay, can more than compensate for budget limitations. The same is true with talent. A good actor or voice talent can deliver the message far more effectively—and affordably—than a slew of special effects or action scenes designed to cover up a bad script.  So when dollars are limited, keep it simple, and focus on quality over concept. The consumer knows and appreciates quality when they see it—and they have little tolerance for a lack of it.

5. Don’t Hide – As mentioned earlier, there are lots of clever and humorous commercials that people remember and talk about to other people. The conversation can go like this:

Bob: “I saw this great commercial the other day.”

Sally: “Really, who was it for?”

Bob: “I have no idea, but there was this talking chimpanzee…”

Large advertisers with large ad budgets that can seemingly “be everywhere” with their message can get away with this. For everyone else, it’s the kiss of death. Don’t be so swayed by a clever commercial with high entertainment value but leaves the viewer clueless as to who you are or what you are selling.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever, or entertaining, or funny, but don’t allow the story line to completely overshadow your identity. Integrate the product or service or company name into the message throughout the commercial—whether spoken, or on screen, or both. Don’t relegate identifying your company or product to the last five seconds of a commercial, thinking that the last thing they see is what they’ll remember. No, what they’ll remember is what entertained them the most, or what was impressed on their brain throughout the commercial.

Other factors certainly come into play when planning and launching a television campaign, such as where and when it runs, what other media will support it, how much competition there is and what they are doing, but these five tips should serve as a guide to where to start, what to focus on and what to avoid.


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