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Gary Davis
Gary Davis

TelevisionAdvertising.com is brought to you by Gary Davis Media, of Austin, Texas. Founded in 1988, GDM specializes in TV advertising for small business & professionals with a particular emphasis on law firms and denture clinics.
Frequently Asked Questions About Television Advertising

Q. How much does it cost to make a television commercial?
A. Several years ago, a New York Times story stated that the average cost of producing a 30-second national television commercial was $343,000. The Times said this figure came from a survey of 1,753 national spots produced by 20 agencies. I believe that, today, the figure would be closer to $500,000. In contrast, a local advertiser with a good Immediate Response offer should be able to get a commercial produced for under $1000.

Q. Isn't it better to spend more to make a higher-quality, better-looking commercial?
A. It is if you are selling an expensive product or service and you are offering quality and prestige. But if you are selling a bargain-priced local service, an expensive commercial may actually work against you, by making your service look expensive.

Q. How much does it cost to run a television commercial?
A. That all depends on how many viewers are estimated to be in the audience, how much airtime is available for purchase and how many advertisers want to purchase it.  

According to a Bloomberg.com article published in January, 2008, a 30-second spot on "American Idol" was going for $780,000. A New York Times story in December, 2007, said that the ABC show, "Grey's Anatomy" was getting $400,000 for a 30-second spot. During the 2003-2004 season, a :30 on "Friends" went for $473,500. In 2006, you could buy a :30 on ABC's "Monday Night Football" for $323,000. The smaller audience for the CW meant less money for spots: "Smallville" only got $111,700. Rates, in general, are up since then.

At the top end of the network spectrum, a 30-second spot in the 2011 Super Bowl ran about $3,000,000.  (For the first Super Bowl, in 1967, you could have bought one for only $42,000 -- but that was in 1967 dollars, probably around $250,000 in today's dollars. Still a lot less than the current rate.)

But daytime and late-night spots in local markets can be surprisingly inexpensive. In a medium-sized market, $5 per thousand viewers is not unusual. So -- a 30-second slot in daytime that reaches 10,000 viewers might cost you around $50 to $60. You may be able to buy "overnight" time slots -- between midnight and 5AM -- for as little as $2 each.  

Q. Should I be in my own commercial?
A. In many cases, yes. People trust other people more when they can see them. And when they've seen you on television, they feel as though they know you.

Reading from the prompter
Q. What if I'm not a very good actor?
A. No problem. You don't need to "act" -- just present your offer clearly and directly. Your prospects don't mind if you're not a professional spokesperson. During the taping, you'll probably be reading off a Teleprompter so you won't even have to learn your lines. And remember, it's your offer that counts the most.

Q. Shouldn't I advertise in prime time? Isn't that where the viewers are?
A. Yes, that's certainly where more of them are, but they won't call you then. Even if they see your commercial and want to call you, by the time they would call you, they've forgotten all about you. And prime time television is very expensive.

Q. What do you mean by "Immediate Response" commercials?
A. Commercials that attempt to get the prospect to "call now". The viewer calls the advertiser and he or she takes it from there.

Q. Is Immediate Response suitable for everyone?
A. No. For example, I don't think it makes much sense to advertise a restaurant that way. But for business people and professionals who offer local services, who can benefit from talking to prospects on the phone and are looking for quick results -- Immediate Response is probably the way to go.  

Q. What are "image" commercials?
A. Also called "brand" commercials, they don't attempt to get anyone to "call now". They just try to get them to feel good about the product or service. Good image commercials are usually more expensive to produce than Immediate Response commercials and take longer to work. Commercials often contain elements of both Immediate Response and "image" advertising.

Q. Don't I have to wait for "frequency" for my commercial to work?
A. With Immediate Response commercials, if your offer is good and your commercial is well placed, it should produce at least a few calls the first time or two it runs. If it runs several times in different programs and nobody calls, probably nobody is ever going to call. Something is seriously wrong.

Q. How do I put together an Immediate Response commercial?
A. As a television commercial once put it, "Hire me and I'll tell you." I don't give specific, step-by-step, instructions here on how to build an "immediate response" commercial. In general, though, the principles of construction that I use to build commercials for local business people are similar to those that national "direct response" advertisers use to create their commercials. They sell "Dream Bed", "Bamboo Steamer" and "Ginsu Knives"; I sell the services of lawyers and dentists and other advertisers. We share the same goals -- we want viewers to call now!

Q. Can I sell my idea for a great TV commercial?
A. No. But I get this question a lot. Someone comes up with what he or she believes is a fantastic idea for a television commercial (or radio commercial, or entertainment show -- whatever). Now he wants to sell the idea to a big company, advertising agency or TV network. Sorry, can't be done.

Big companies do not buy "over the transom" ideas from people who do not already work for them. For one thing, no one on the outside can ever know all the details of any particular project -- budget, target audience, personal opinions of the client, that sort of thing -- so those "great" ideas could never work as well as their creators think they could. Most outsiders do not understand the production requirements, including money, to turn their ideas into reality. Plus, there are huge potential legal problems for any company that accepts ideas from outside.  

If you actually do have great ideas for advertising or entertainment then you are going to have to get a job in the industry before anyone will take you seriously.

Q. I have a product I would like to sell using "Direct Response" TV. How do I do that? 
A. As I have said elsewhere, I have never known anyone who has made money selling products -- as distinct from services -- on a local basis using direct response television. Products take regional or national coverage. Even then, only a tiny percentage of products sell great while the vast majority are losers.

Q. What about infomercials?
A. Unless you are a professional in the infomercial end of the advertising business, you have virtually no chance of making any money using infomercials to advertise your product or service. Even seasoned professionals lose money more often than not.

A June, 2004 story in the Baltimore Sun about the infomercial business stated that only one out of 60 infomercials was commercially successful. Remember this if you are approached by an infomercial producer, offering to make one for you. While that producer will certainly make plenty of money from it, your chance of making any money are about the same as your chance of becoming King of Denmark. Forget it.

Just understand that selling products with infomercials or even short-form commercials on regional or national TV is a vastly different game than selling your professional service using 30-second spots on local TV. I can get a service client started in a local market for as little as a couple thousand dollars to make a spot and test it. But, in most cases, to sell a product on TV in such a way that you really have any shot at all at making money, you need to have at least $150,000 that you can afford to lose. It is very risky -- not the place to invest your kid's college fund!

Beware! There are many unscrupulous people out there who will tell you that your product idea is great for TV when they know (or should know) that it is not. They make money by convincing you to spend a lot of money on commercial production. If you are interested in how this works, read this.