Frequently-Asked Questions

  • How much does it cost to make a TV commercial?

    A typical 30-second national TV commercial, the kind you see on prime-time network programming, costs between $300k and $500k to make. Of course, those people are using the absolute best equipment, a large crew of people, highly-paid writers, directors and actors and travel expenses to often far-away locations. Add more dollars when they hire stars or use elaborate special effects. On the other hand, a local advertiser with an immediate response offer should be able to have a commercial made for under $1000, perhaps even half that.

  • Isn’t it better to spend more money to make a better looking spot?

    It is if you are selling an expensive product or service and you are offering quality and prestige. It’s also worth spending some extra money to make tangible products look good — for example, food, if you are advertising a restaurant. But if you are selling a bargain-priced local service, an expensive-looking commercial may actually work against you, by making your service look expensive.

  • How much does it cost to buy TV airtime?

    It all depends on how many people are estimated to be in the viewing audience. National prime-time TV spots are very expensive because there are so many people watching them. (OK, maybe watching them muted or zipping past them 2X-forward.) From $20k-$50k for a show on the CW Network to $200k for a show doing pretty well on one of the big networks. Over $600k for Sunday Night Football.

    Locally, though, a 30-second spot that reaches 10k viewers might run you $50-$60. Daytime rates in small markets are often $15-$30. That same time slot, then, would run perhaps $100 in a medium-sized market and $600 in New York or L.A. In small local markets, you may be able to buy “overnights” that run between midnight and 5A for as little as a buck or two each. Not many folks out there at that time, but if you are advertising, say, an open-all-night cafe, those spots might be perfect for you.

  • Should I be in my own commercial?

    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.

  • What if I'm not a very good actor?

    No problem. You don't need to "act" -- just present your offer clearly and directly. Because you’re obviously not a professional spokesperson, you may be a lot more believable. During the taping, you'll probably be reading off a prompter so you won't even have to learn your lines. And remember, it's not how good you are — it’s how good your offer is — that makes the difference.

  • Shouldn't I advertise in prime time? Isn't that where the viewers are?

    Yes, more viewers are out there then, but they won't call then. Even if they like your offer and want to call you, they’re likely to forget by the next day. And prime time television, even locally, gets very expensive.

  • What do you mean by “immediate response" commercials?

    Commercials that attempt to get the prospect to "call now". The viewer calls the advertiser and they take it from there. There is a similar term, “direct response”, that means pretty much the same thing but usually refers specifically to products, as distinct from services, sold directly on TV.

  • Is immediate response suitable for everyone?

    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, are looking for quick results and can make that happen by talking to prospects on the phone, immediate response is probably the way to go. 

  • What are "image" commercials?

    Also called "branding” commercials, they don't attempt to get people to "call now". They just try to make them 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.

  • Don't I have to wait for "frequency" for my commercial to work?

    With immediate response commercials, if your offer is really good and your commercial is well placed, it should produce at least a few calls over the first few times it runs. If it runs several times in different programs and nobody calls, probably nobody is ever going to call. Most likely, something is seriously wrong.

  • Can I sell my idea for a great TV commercial?

    No. I get this question a lot. Someone comes up with what they believe is a fantastic idea for a television commercial (or radio commercial, or entertainment show -- whatever). Now they want 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 only rarely could those "great" ideas work as well as their creators think they would. Most outsiders do not understand the production requirements, especially the money, to turn 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.

  • I have a tangible product I would like to sell using "Direct Response" TV. How do I do that?

    I have never personally known anyone who has made money selling products — as distinct from services — on a local basis using direct response television. Apparently, selling products takes regional or national coverage. Even then, only a tiny percentage of products sell great while the vast majority are losers. But be aware that 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 tale of TV woe. If you think that you are the least bit tempted by this sort of thing, then it is very important that you read this. You should also listen to this audio, which is not quite 6 minutes long, so you can hear what a sales pitch like this might sound like before you actually listen to one. Here it is:

  • What about infomercials?

    Unless you are already a professional in the infomercial end of the advertising business, you have virtually no chance of making an infomercial that will create profits for anyone but the producers. Even seasoned professional producers lose money for their clients 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. If true, then I see no reason why that ratio would have gotten any better in recent years. Remember this if you are approached by an infomercial producer, offering to make one for you. While that producer will certainly make money from it, your chances of making any money are slim to none.

  • Don’t people mute most commercials nowadays?

    I know I do. But when I see a commercial I find entertaining or it contains information I want to know about, I turn up the volume. So, I think it is important for your TV spots to be very clear, from beginning to end, as to what they are about and how to respond to them. That is one reason why I like to put the nature of the business at the top of my commercials and the phone number and web URL at the bottom and let them sit there throughout the spot.

    In addition to that, you want to have at least enough video graphic “keys” (words on the screen that enhance the audio) to make your key points visible, not just in the audio. For some commercials, you might even consider running your entire audio script as a crawl at the bottom of the screen.

    I recently watched a Duluth Trading Company commercial about men’s underwear that delivered its message perfectly, with great humor, beginning to end, even though I had the TV muted. It featured a cartoon character and words on the screen and that’s all you needed. Whoever made that spot understands how TV has changed and came up with a great way to deal with it.

  • How can I make the web work for me, not against me?

    Today, before you do anything else, even before you advertise on television, you need to have a good website that people can find.

    By “good website” I mean one that is highly informative, not just promotional. Too many business owners and even web developers think that a website should just be a glorified four-color brochure. That approach will do you in. People go to the web to find specific information that they believe will be helpful to them, one way or another. So, in your website, provide that. For example, if you are a Social Security Disability lawyer, don’t just talk about how great your firm is, how much experience your associates have, how many wonderful things you can do for the readers. They won’t believe much of that, even if every word of it is true. They are too used to being lied to.

    Instead, put yourself in the mind of your reader. Answer, specifically, questions that people who might become your clients want the answers to. Give them a ton of helpful information. Make your website so chock-full of helpful information, expressed in an understandable and friendly fashion, that they will draw the conclusion, on their own, that you want them to draw: “I like these people. They have really helped me. They seem straightforward and honest. I think I will call them!” That’s how a website should work.

    Also, your website must be findable. There is a whole industry, called “SEO” for “search engine optimization” built around doing this. Naturally, much of it is bogus. They try to sell you expensive expert work on your website that you or your nephew could do yourself. Often, the expensive expertise doesn’t do much for you, anyway. But no matter how you get it done, you need to make sure that your website is “responsive”, i.e., works and looks good on all devices. Also, that it is structured in a way that the Google web “spiders” like. After you do all this, you submit your site to Google to make sure they “crawl” it. This is not the place nor am I the person to go into how to do these things, but it is something you need to research, learn about and get done.

    Make sure your web address — your “URL” — is on your TV commercial, right there with the phone number. The easier it is to read and remember, the better. If you’ve done a good job with your website so that it brings in new clients, then you might even want to do a TV commercial about it.

    I have never advised my clients to put their TV commercials on their websites. A video discussion or demonstration, maybe. But a TV commercial, no. Commercials are too “pushy”. On the web, they just don’t come off right. But there’s no reason not to ask, in your website, “Have you seen our TV commercial?”?