What Makes a Good TV Commercial

Jun 27, 2022 / Industry Insights / FOTW

Television commercials in essence are these: a company has between 30 and 60 seconds to sell the viewer their product or service. Now, 30 seconds isn’t much time in the grand scheme of things, so how can one make an effective TV commercial in that short period of time? What should the commercial say? What should happen within those 30 seconds? Regardless of whether your company is looking to create a commercial for day-to-day television or just for the Super Bowl season, knowing how to make a good television commercial is important to get the results you need for your campaign.

Although the growth of the internet has been substantial over the last decade, traditional television ads are still extremely powerful for a company’s brand creation and growth. Television commercial campaigns are still the best for targeting a more general audience, unlike most internet platforms which focus on targeting specific groups to share a company’s message. It shouldn’t ever be one platform over the other. In fact, a company’s best bet at creating an effective marketing campaign involves utilising every platform that is available to them, and that includes television!

When you’re making a TV commercial, you must create something that is both impactful and memorable – something that truly resonates with your key audience. But then the question follows is: how to make a good commercial? Before taking a look at how to create effective TV commercials, let’s talk about why television is still an effective platform for brands to advertise their products, whether big or small.

Why make a television commercial?

Companies shouldn’t believe the nay-sayers who believe that “television is dead” and that TV advertising is a relic of the past because the proof is still in the pudding. Although the internet reigns supreme nowadays in terms of content viewership, television is ranked the second most profitable advertising medium immediately after the internet. In the US, it counts for a fifth of the market share while in the UK, TV commercials count for around 95% of actively viewed advertising. In 2021, TV advertising revenue was worth approximately £5.46 billion in the UK and advertising is forecasted to grow over the coming years.

Again, a great marketing campaign will make use of all the platforms that are available to them, especially those that have consistently shown their effectiveness time and time again throughout the years such as television. However, each platform has its pros and cons, and their own ways to approach advertising. For example, unlike internet advertising, commercials shown on traditional Linear TV aren’t skippable although, with the advent of services BVOD, CTV, SVOD, VOD and so on, they are becoming less so. Either way, that makes it even more important for companies to utilise those 30 seconds to the max. So, just how exactly does one make an effective TV commercial? Here’s what you need to know:

How to make a television commercial

Source: Backstage

Making a TV commercial is relatively simple, but making a good one takes a lot of planning and care during the entire process since creating TV commercials involves a lot of layers. If you’re looking to create a highly successful advertising campaign, you need to create one that’s both memorable and effective in turning viewers into customers or, better yet, brand advocates. If someone asked you to think about a TV commercial from your childhood, what would your response be? Regardless of your answer, there is one commonality: the ad that you’ve just thought of had the right ingredients that made it stand out which helped it get stuck in your mind for years and years to follow. Does anyone remember Cadbury’s drum-playing gorilla?

While a great TV ad seems like a magical thing that’s difficult to achieve, it doesn’t need to be! As long as you get some expertise to help you on your journey. Some of the best and most effective TV commercials out there went through a stringent planning process, using a lot of the tips and tricks that will be discussed within this article. Once you get the idea of how things work, the process to create a TV commercial will become a lot less intimidating and you may even come to enjoy the entire process.

Whether it’s a heartwarming ad like Apple’s 2021 Holiday iPhone advertisement, ads with memorable jingles like those from Fairy Liquid, or one whose tagline still sticks to you to this day like Compare the Market’s “Compare the Meerkat” campaigns – simples! These companies created good commercials not by pure luck, but through intense planning, ensuring that the “right stuff” was done and then thoroughly executing the plan. So, what does your company need to grab an audience’s attention? In general, there are four key ingredients:

The right tone

While it would be fun for every company to create a jingle (and, once upon a time, that was very much the case) or a highly entertaining video, it might not be the right tone for the brand. A company’s brand is its image and unless it’s been recently established or has had a recent brand refresh, there generally tends to be a tone attached. When creating an advertising campaign for your company, you need to keep the brand, its tone and customers in mind before deciding on the specific direction you’d like to go.

Is your company serious? Is it bubbly or edgy? Take that answer and reflect it upon the television ad. While it could be tempting to go the crazy, wacky route, those types of commercials may not do as well as you’d think, especially if it doesn’t match up to the brand itself. Take your time to decide what’s best for not just the product at hand, but the overall company image.

Apple is great at showcasing its product and even better at consistently keeping to the tone of their brand, whether within a 30-second segment or a 3-minute short film. The most recent commercial is for the upcoming 2022 Macbook Air, powered by the new M2 chip. Along to the beat of a bubbly track, the ad highlights the lightness of the Macbook Air as someone floats through his living room going about his day – from planning and creating a presentation to having a FaceTime call with his mom. Now that’s how to make a television commercial.

A good storyline

A good story is key to keeping your audience engaged throughout your 30-second slot and it’s one of the key steps to making a good commercial. Nowadays, the average television viewer has become desensitized to typical TV commercials, they’ll be able to see one coming from a mile away, so it’ll be important to keep your audience’s attention if you want to run a successful campaign.

One way to tackle this is by viewing this project as if you’re creating a short film, rather than a commercial. Human brains are designed to experience to process information and one way we can relay experiences is through stories. Picture once again some commercials that have impacted you personally, it’s more likely than not that there was a story told featuring the product rather than it being something akin to an infomercial – selling the product straight on. 

Dannon’s commercial for their yoghurt can thank their “In Soviet Georgia…” TV ad for skyrocketing what was then dwindling sales numbers and keeping the company going for years to come. The 1977 ad was filmed like a documentary set in what is now the Republic of Georgia and illustrates a number of Georgian centenarians. As the Georgians engage in physical activities such as chopping wood, horseback riding and tilling the soil of their vineyard, a kindly voiceover informs the audience of a curious coincidence about the Georgian people – that their diet features a lot of yoghurt, and a lot of the population live past 100 years old.

Remember the hook

When you’re selling a product, you need to showcase what makes yours stand out from the rest. That’s where the hook comes in, and it’s something that still needs to be showcased within effective TV commercials. A hook is essentially a catchy phrase or tagline that’s meant to entice customers into taking the next step – making a purchase.

KitKat’s “Have a break, have a Kitkat,” Burger King’s “Have it your way,” or even Audi’s German tagline “Vorsprung Durch Technik” are three notable examples of great hooks that people remember to this day. The latter’s tagline, which can be translated to “advantage through technology,” is so strong that it has remained in German even when their cars are being advertised in other countries outside the German-speaking region. But a hook is only as good as the product’s commercial, and the two need to go hand-in-hand to grab your audience’s attention.

Not every company will be as lucky as Arab Dairy, the Egyptian company that is the manufacturer of the infamous Panda Cheese. If you’re unfamiliar, the company launched a series of TV commercials that featured a very angry panda which would cause chaos when anyone would decline it to the tune of Buddy Holly. “Never say no to Panda,” read the translated tagline, either as the panda continues to stare the naysayer down post its tantrum, or as it continues on its rampage.

Although it was nearly immediately pulled off Egyptian airwaves (and resulted in the unfortunate firing of the company’s whole marketing team by its CEO), its absurdity was what helped it become a viral sensation on YouTube and that specific tagline has even become a meme.

Call to action

One of the most vital steps to create a TV commercial is its call to action. Your commercial may be one of the best out there, but it won’t be considered successful if the audience has no idea what to do with the information that they’ve been provided. In advertising, an ad with call to actions that feature offers are called “Direct Response TV” or DRTV ads. While emotive commercials with a call to action at the end are known in the industry as “Brand Response TV” or BRTV ads.

A commercial without a call to action is one that’s lost unless you are a well-established brand, so you’ll need to decide what the campaign’s call to action is even before drafting the commercial itself. What do you want your ad’s viewers to do at the end of the commercial?

This question is vital to generating leads from your commercials so you’ll need to know exactly what the call to action is before you get started on making your TV commercial. A call to action can simply be a phone number you’d like your audience to call or a website that you’d like them to visit. If your business is in commerce, you can use your call to action to entice your commercial’s audience into coming to your store. Writing an effective call to action is key here. A lot of the time, the best call to action is one that’s subtle yet creates a sense of urgency, like “Grab this limited edition item at our stores before it’s too late!”

Or how about growing your community? Airbnb’s “Strangers” commercial wasn’t trying to sell to holiday-goers, but to potential hosts and to grow their hosting community. The commercial told a story of a family of three yeti-like creatures that visits a holiday home, which, upon first glance, it may seem daunting, but the commercial proved otherwise as it went along. These “strangers” enjoyed their time at the home – watching movies cuddled up on the couch and going on a recommended hiking trip – and treated the space as if it was their own by cooking, cleaning, and even tidying up before they left to reveal that the yetis were just a normal human family.

Airbnb hits its audience with the tagline “Strangers aren’t that strange,” before revealing their call to action: “Try hosting”. The company’s tactic of not just tugging at the heartstrings, but also attempting to dispel negativity surrounding becoming an Airbnb host which seems to succeed as the platform still sees over 10,000 new hosts joining the platform each month this year.

Steps to creating a TV commercial – a quick overview

With the above key ingredients on how to make a good commercial, you’re ready to learn the steps necessary to create effective TV commercials. It’s important to recognise the value of each step in the process, so that they may not be glossed over in the name of speed. In this section, the steps you need to take to create an effective TV commercial will be broken down into bite-sized chunks that are both easy to understand and easy to follow.

This all can seem a little overwhelming at first, but once you understand the process and why each step is as important as the next, creating effective TV commercials seems a lot less frightening. When creating effective TV commercials, these are the general steps you should take to get to where you need to be:

1. Hire the right people

When planning to create a TV commercial, you need to get hiring the right people as soon as possible. Start with hiring a company that knows all about TV advertising, preferably one that does everything in-house, too. The right kind of people will be able to bring your ideas to life, and help you create the best possible TV ad for your campaign. Experts in the field will be able to build upon your ideas into something greater, fulfilling the potential of your company’s commercial to extents that you may never have thought possible – all within that 30 to 60 second time slot.

2. Write a brief to help create your idea

You’ve got a great premise, now it’s time to dig deeper, so you’ll need a well-formed brief which includes a budget that the business has signed off. The idea needs to be a bit more fleshed out so that you know exactly what you want and exactly what you need as the process goes on. To get yourself to that point, the brief should have these questions:

  • What is being advertised?
  • Interpret the competitive landscape
  • Are there any key messages?
  • Who are you advertising to?
  • How should the product be featured?
  • Will it be live-action or animated?
  • Does the commercial need actors?
  • Oh, and don’t forget the budget.

 

Once you have the answers to the above questions, you’re ready for the next step.

3. Formulate your ideas

While you don’t need to come up with the next big viral TV ad, you should be aiming for something that is going to draw your viewer in or at least make them remember your brand or product. Don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from other commercials – even the first-ever Dollar Shave Club ad had inspirations from Old Spice. Definitely use this as an opportunity to get in early and brainstorm with your team or creative agency to get the creative juices flowing and bounce ideas off each other. Working with your agency is important and collaboration is key to getting the best out of them and the end result for your TV ad. You may never know what you might come up with! 

4. Write the script

Work with the advertising agency you’ve hired to write a full-blown script. At this point, you should already have an idea of the tone that your ad will be plus if there will be any characters to the story. Draw inspiration once more from commercials past and go from there! Remember to be as detailed as possible and lay the script out, second by second – from the first fade-in to the final fade-out so you can be certain it will fit within the adverts timeframe.

5. Plan your shots

Now you have your idea and your script, it’s time to get storyboarding. Storyboards are important to plan each shot that will go into the 30- to 60-second ad. From set building to shot framing, every little detail should be highlighted here. Storyboards will also help give your team a visual idea of how the commercial will go, allowing everyone to be on the same page during the production process.

Top Tip: At this stage you should start to plan for any other outputs. Whether they are to be placed on digital, social or even radio. This allows you to start thinking about building assets or plan to film extra shots on the day of the shoot so that the creative will work on different formats (Such as social) but still feel part of the same campaign.

6. Ad approval, placement and frequency

This needs to be planned as early as possible during the commercial creation process. Even the most effective TV commercials need to be approved, and in the UK, most TV networks use Clearcast to approve adverts that comply with guidelines provided by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Normally, storyboards and early rough cuts would be provided to Clearcast to make sure that everything is good to go as soon as possible or risk losing your pre-booked time slot.

Ad placement is also a very important part of the process as this will dictate where your TV ad will be seen. It is also the most costly part of the process, so you must ensure you get an agency that can handle this for you as they will help get the best price for the air space but more importantly on the right channels. The ad placement should be decided early on in the process, preferably once the idea has been decided and sometimes even earlier. If you do have the budget then it is recommended that you spend the extra money on getting a primetime slot as it will ensure that your TV ad gets seen by as many eyes as possible. Effective TV commercials are also shown on a channel that makes sense for the brand – you can’t expect to be successful showing your sporting goods store on the Food Network. It’s also important to make sure that your commercial runs over a period of time, also known as an always-on approach so your brand becomes well known as people are seeing your brand consistently, this will also help build trust therefore more people will buy from you.

7. Filming and post-production

Filming the commercial itself goes hand-in-hand with any post-production procedure such as editing, recording VO artists, adding sound and Visual FX or building 3D assets. Here, it is crucial that everything goes to plan and the end-product fits into your allocated time slot to the millisecond, lest you lose out on very important details that could spoil the entire campaign. This is also the point where hiring the right agency is important because they do this for a living, so they will manage the production process from start to finish, guiding you through every step and be more than aware of how crucial every second of the TV commercial is and will be able to optimise it to the best of their abilities.

Tips on how to make effective TV commercials

Source: MCTV

Now that you know the four key ingredients on how to make an effective television commercial and the steps you need to take to create them, there are a few nuggets of advice that you should keep in mind to take your TV ad to the next level. A lot of these may seem obvious, but it’s the obvious things that we tend to take for granted which may result in unfavourable outcomes for your campaign. So, keep these tips in mind when you’re starting the process of creating a TV commercial:

Keep it simple

One of the best tips on how to make a television commercial is to keep it simple. Not only should your storyline be simple, but the overall visuals of the ad itself, too. This is very important to keep in mind when you’d like to create a TV commercial. Remember, you only have between 30 and 60 seconds to hit your message home and form a connection between your company and the audience. If your upcoming campaign is the first time you’re creating a TV commercial, keeping it simple is even more imperative.

You don’t want to overwhelm your audience with either too much happening on screen, too much information, or even a story that’s a little too in-depth. There’s only so much information they can retain within those precious seconds, so utilise it to the absolute max while ensuring simplicity remains king.

A great example of this is Volkswagen’s 2012 Super Bowl ad for their Passat. It featured a simple story, with no voiceover, of a kid that’s a Star Wars fan trying to use the Force upon various household objects – the washing machine, his lunchtime sandwich, the family dog – all to no avail. The kid is obviously disappointed with his lack of connection to the Force with a simple shrugging of his shoulders until his dad arrives in his new Volkswagen Passat. What made this TV commercial successful wasn’t just the inclusion of Star Wars, but the simplicity of the premise as well as the story and each scene within the 60-second commercial, too.

Hit it early

The average audience member’s attention span is constantly shrinking. If you want to truly make an impact with effective TV commercials, you need to hit the ground running. The first three seconds are crucial to capturing the attention of your audience and you’ll need to utilise it wisely to keep them engaged through to the end of your slot.

This is why planning a good story is extremely important to create a TV commercial that’s effective and is important to highlight how you need to grab your audience’s attention, hook line and sinker. This could be done in a variety of ways – through absurdity, comedy, or a scene that immediately tugs at one’s heartstrings.

One of the longest-running commercials was Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Time to Make the Donuts,” which featured Fred the Baker who’d wake up at the break of dawn and leave the house declaring that it was “time to make the doughnuts”. This series would continue for 16 years from 1981 to 1997 as Fred would continue hawking out different Dunkin’ products like coffee, bagels, or muffins – getting up early in the morning to go out to make them as Dunkin’ relays that their doughnuts are always “freshly made, day and night.”

Don’t cut corners

As with almost everything in life, you’ll get what you pay for and effective TV commercials are no different. Quality is a key aspect of how to make a good commercial, and skimping on costs will not get you anywhere. If you have a limited budget, don’t fool yourself into believing that you’ll be able to create the same results with cheaper equipment lest you want your customers to assume that your company doesn’t believe in quality – resulting in unfavourable standing.

Every aspect of the production side of television commercials is equally important to the other, and the reduction in quality of one aspect can throw the whole project out of whack! Sure, you’ll be able to shoot your commercial using a cheaper handheld camera, but the outcome of it won’t be as good as a proper filming camera. Every penny spent on production as a whole will be worth it in the end when you have the end result of an effective TV commercial with quality to match every other ad that viewers will be exposed to.

However, you can still create effective TV commercials regardless of monetary constraints as there are other ways to not break the bank, like creating shorter commercials or getting creative with any actors involved. Think back to every commercial that you’ve seen in your life – from the Fairy Liquid commercials of the 80s to the John Lewis Christmas commercials of today. 

None of those companies were frugal about their ads because they knew the importance of quality, and even if they were given a more constrained budget, they could still create TV commercials that were short yet highly effective to hit their point home and find success from their TV ad campaigns. These companies knew the importance of maintaining quality, and you should, too.

Clearly represent your brand

Although you may have written a great, heartwarming story for your commercial, it won’t be as effective if your viewers have no idea who the brand behind the advertisement is. Waiting until the very end of the commercial to showcase the brand behind the ad isn’t a good idea, either as it might not be enough time for the brain to make the connection. Remember to place a focus on the product you’d like to sell, even if somewhat subtle. You can do this by using visual and verbal cues and placing your brand’s name or logo throughout the commercial.

There are many brands, big and small, who have done this successfully. Take Apple again, for instance. The technology company’s long-running “Shot on iPhone” series of commercials make it clear from the get-go that the audience will see the result of photos or videos that were taken on the latest iPhone. These tend to showcase the latest tech or features highlighted throughout the timeframe like the “Whoddunit” 90-second commercial that was a short film highlighting the latest cinematic mode that comes with the iPhone 13 Pro. Within the first few seconds of their “Shot on iPhone” ads, clearly informing them who is behind the ad and what product they’ll be experiencing.

Include a social media tie-in

If your company is planning on launching an all-encompassing marketing campaign, linking them together – especially on TV and social media – is a highly effective marketing strategy because you’ll be able to spread your message to an even larger audience, we call this our ‘All screen’ approach. However, you must plan this at the beginning of the process when the idea has formed so you can adapt shots or the idea for different channels. There are a few other simpler ways to link social with your TV advert, one of which is attaching a hashtag that your audience can use on social media to either discuss the ad that they just caught on TV or share their purchase of the product.

Coca-Cola launched the “Share a Coke” campaign across the world after kicking off in Australia back in 2011. This campaign was all-encompassing and it tied together almost seamlessly with each platform, thanks to the accompanying hashtag #ShareACoke which encouraged its consumers to go out to find customised Coke bottle with their name on it. Or, as some of the global #ShareACoke ads suggest, the names of their loved ones as a gift of a bottle of the carbonated beverage.

Think about the long-term

As with most marketing campaigns, it’s important to think about the long term when it comes to creating a TV commercial. While this may be a given, there are still those of the mindset of “now” which just doesn’t work, and the same applies to internet advertising. 

You shouldn’t expect instant results after running your commercial on the airwaves because it will take time for viewers to make a move from seeing your TV ad to following through with your specific call to action. This is especially true if you’re not selling a limited-time promotion and looking to use television ads as a way to build your brand’s base.

Bringing back the example of the Panda Cheese commercials, the parent company didn’t see a rise in sales until almost a year after – although it should be noted that forcing it off the airwaves prematurely certainly didn’t help matters. When their “Never Say No to Panda” commercials became a viral hit, Panda Cheese jumped from the ninth best-selling cheese in Egypt to the number two spot. 

Unfortunately for the company, they couldn’t see a spill-over effect into other markets where their commercials were also highly successful, although this was due to them being a local Egyptian product. But it also wasn’t too surprising to hear stories of tourists who had visited Egypt and went out of their way to get their hands on and try some Panda Cheese, simply because they caught the angry panda commercials one way or another!

Don’t just have one commercial

Some of the best commercials in history never leave it at one ad. Some of them create several 30-second commercials, all attached to a singular storyline, while others centre around a particular theme – or sometimes a specific, long-running campaign. It doesn’t have to be a deep and compelling story, the series could highlight a lone character across the 30-second commercials or it could continue on a running joke.

Creating a series of commercials to run on television gives you both the opportunity to get even more creative compared to if you just did a one-off ad and more opportunities to connect with different parts of your core audience. While one ad in your company’s campaign might not stick with certain groups of people, others might – so use this chance to broaden your horizons.

Back in 1989, Energizer launched the “Escape of the Bunny” campaign which wasn’t just self-aware and comical but lasted a number of commercial slots as the Energizer bunny kept “going, and going, and going,” even disrupting other “commercials” in its wake. The TV commercials were also taking a jab at their direct competitor, Duracell, by using a pink bunny as its mascot and the two companies’ rivalry is one that is known by everyone until this day. 

Another great series of commercials is from Old Spice, but not only the “sensual” ones featuring hunky former wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa who would directly address the ladies of the Old Spice target market of men, the ones that led into the over-the-top, high-energy ads featuring Terry Crews, too. How effective were they? The Old Spice commercial series is said to have bumped up Old Spice sales by more than 11% right after the first Isaiah Mustafa ad itself!

Speak to experts

While looking out for agencies to collaborate with on your television campaign, make sure that you find one that know their stuff about television advertising. Television advertising experts will learn everything they need to know about your company – from your brand to the specific campaign at hand – and utilise that information to put you on the right path

Ensuring that you’ve hired the right people for the job also ensures that the company’s money has been well spent, because doing it right may ensure that you get exactly what your company needs for the right price. Ask questions, make sure that your company’s marketing representative is present throughout the process so that anything can be cleared up as soon as it needs to be. Experts in their field will know when to ask questions, rather than assume that they simply know best.

Advertising on TV is like a science, and it’s important that you hire the right people for the job. Sometimes a unicorn marketing agency could do the job, but a lot of the time, you’ll need those who are experts at creating effective TV commercials. Doing so will not only get you the results that you want but also create memorable campaigns that may last a person’s lifetime which is the best result that you could hope for with your TV advertising campaigns.

Final thoughts

TV commercials remain a valuable tool in any marketing team’s arsenal, and their worth can never be underestimated. In the UK, television remains one of the biggest media platforms for consumption, and it remains true elsewhere in the world as well. But, as with any effective marketing strategy, your company’s television advertisements should be a part of a broader campaign to maximise the outcome to its best potential.

While creating effective TV commercials isn’t easy, the process necessary to produce them is simple when broken down as above. Each aspect of the planning and execution process is just as important as the four key ingredients or the eight tips that were provided in this article. Skipping out on any of them could result in a TV ad campaign that isn’t as effective as you’d hope, so don’t even try to disregard even the ones that seem to be unnecessary!

It may seem daunting at first when first faced with the prospect of creating not just a TV commercial, but an effective one at that and the idea of having to go through the process. However, once you understand how to make a good commercial, the process seems less and less terrifying. Nail these tips, tricks and steps, and you can then go forth and create one yourself – with the help of TV advertising experts, of course.


Do you want to know more about how we can help with your TV advertising? If so, give us a call on 01582 881144 or drop us a line at hello@falloffthewall.com. We’d love to chat.

Author - Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith is the Co-Founder and Creative Director at Fall Off The Wall, a forward-thinking TV advertising & creative production agency in the UK. Jamie Smith is an experienced Creative Director with a demonstrated history of working in the DRTV marketing and advertising industry.