TV Commercials: Are They Right For Your Small Business?

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If you've ever watched local TV commercials and wished you could do the same for your small business, you may be surprised to learn that this advertising method could be well within your reach. Of course, you'll need to budget for commercial production and air time, but the commercial could end up paying for itself. This is especially true if your target market is likely to watch TV during the day, when air time is significantly cheaper.

You'll need to perform some market research before diving into the world of TV commercial production to make sure you're not wasting your time and resources. The best TV commercials will not only increase your revenue but also build trust in your company and increase brand recognition, leading to long-lasting results even after your TV spot airs.

Once you feel confident that TV advertising is right for your small business, you'll need to decide what your commercial should say, which visuals you should display and the type of tone to use to stay on-brand. The call to action you choose to include in your commercial should also be traceable for best results.

The Right Audience for TV Commercials

Before you get too excited about designing and filming a TV commercial, you need to do some market research to verify that TV represents an effective channel for reaching your target audience. For example, young adults are less likely to own or watch TV compared to older adults. However, there are segments of the population who tend to watch TV at certain times of the day. Stay-at-home parents, retirees and certain employees (like receptionists or wait staff) tend to have the TV on during the day more so than students and many working professionals.

The dynamic changes in the evening, when those students and working professionals are more likely to kick back and relax in front of the TV. Still, your market research may reveal that your target demographic turns on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or another streaming service for their evening wind-down rather than flipping through local TV networks. Pinpoint your target audience and then conduct surveys to confirm whether a TV commercial is truly the right avenue for reaching them.

Products or services that are primarily meant for older adults (such as prescription medications) or to parents (such as children's toys or educational tools) tend to perform well during the day, as do services that overlap these two demographics (such as travel, home security and insurance). Unemployed and disabled populations may also have the TV on during the day, which is why you'll often see commercials from lawyers advertising services for obtaining disability or unemployment benefits during these time slots. If your competitors are advertising on TV, it's a good indication that you'll benefit from a commercial as well. However, it's always smart to do your own independent market research.

The Cost to Make TV Commercials

Your business's reputation could suffer if your commercial doesn't look professional. Of course, there is some charm to a low-budget commercial, but unless that's an angle you're seeking in a poking-fun-at-yourself sort of way, you'll end up making a poor first impression.

It's possible to DIY your own TV ad to an extent if you're comfortable being in front of the camera or hearing your own voice, but you'll still need to invest in professional-grade equipment for the best results. Your smartphone might take clear footage, but it won't necessarily scale well on all screen sizes, like huge flat-screen TVs. Your phone also won't pick up the best audio. Therefore, you'll need to budget for equipment purchase or rental at the very least as well as video-editing software.

You can outsource to advertising agencies that can provide the equipment, creative direction, video-editing services and voice talent for a few thousand dollars for a 30-second clip. One-minute commercials will inevitably cost more and can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The Cost to Air TV Commercials

The cost of airing television commercials varies tremendously based on whether you want to advertise on local, regional or national channels, the length of your commercial and how many viewers you hope to reach. Stations or channels price their commercial slots based on the number of views, which means it will be cheaper to air a commercial during daytime hours versus during prime-time evening hours.

For example, it may cost $5 per 1,000 views to air a 30-second video on your local TV station. National coverage, such as on NBC, could cost you upward of $100,000 for 30-second airings of your commercial. Most small businesses can focus on local coverage, but if you run an e-commerce store with a national audience, consider choosing a few cities to run commercials on local channels — such as Los Angeles, New York and Houston — in order to dip your toe into the world of TV advertising.

At the far end of the TV commercial cost spectrum sit Super Bowl commercials, which are considered the cream of the crop because the game attracts millions of viewers on a national scale. The competition for Super Bowl ads drives costs into the millions and billions, meaning these time slots typically only showcase the largest corporations, like Nike, Disney and Coca-Cola.

What Should Your Commercial Say?

You should assume that viewers have never heard of your business even if you're not making your first commercial. Always clarify what kind of problem your product or service solves as well as where you're located or how people can get in touch with you, such as your phone number or website. If you know that many people tend to hesitate about visiting or calling you for one reason or another (for example, they might think your service or product will be very expensive or that you're too far away to justify the drive), try to address this in the commercial.

Even though you may be limited in time, try not to speak too quickly so that all information is easy to understand. Consider mentioning your website or Facebook page to invite people to learn more about you. Social media pages in particular give you a brand-new avenue for staying top of mind with potential customers. Whatever you do, have a clear call to action, such as visiting your store or website or liking your page on Facebook.

The content of your commercial should also be memorable, which is why many businesses create a jingle or create some sort of a mascot for brand recognition. You don't necessarily need to turn toward TV commercial gimmicks in order to create an effective advertisement, but the tone and quality of the entire recording should accurately reflect your brand values.

Accurately Reflecting Your Brand

You'll have many choices to make as you draft your commercial, from the background music to the voice talent to the imagery and color scheme. You should always ask, "Is this appropriate for our brand and audience?" every step of the way. Even subtle changes can make a big difference.

For example, if you want to create a commercial for your consignment shop for children, the music you choose should be somewhat playful and the voice-over should be upbeat. You don't want to mimic the sad tone of the ASPCA commercials or have the same frenetic, loud voice normally used with car commercials. Mixing tones like this will only confuse your target audience and make your brand seem unprofessional rather than warm and inviting. On the other hand, if you're advertising a local wrestling gym, you wouldn't choose the same music and voice talent as the consignment shop for children.

You should also ensure that all visuals are high quality and show your business in the best light possible — literally. Choose a sunny, vibrant day for filming outdoor footage, make sure the inside of your business looks bright, cheerful and clean and ensure any employees who appear in the commercial smile and look genuinely pleased to be there. Consider diversity when filming as well, which can help your business stand out as accepting, welcoming and approachable.

Measuring the Success of a Commercial

Decide how you'll measure the success of your commercial before you finalize its script and filming. The way you measure the effectiveness of the commercial will partially depend on your call to action. For example, if your CTA is to visit your website, you can compare website data to your air time viewership data in order to determine if website visits increased immediately after your commercial aired. If your CTA is to like you on Facebook, you can perform a similar data analysis.

However, not everyone takes action immediately. Some people will write down your business name and look up your site or Facebook page later, or they'll make plans to visit your store on the weekend. You can get a little creative, however, by offering a discount code in your commercial that isn't shared on any of your other marketing channels. Then, you can track how often the discount code is used as well as how many new customers use the discount code vs. existing customers.

You can also simply look to see whether your sales and revenue increase over time while the commercial airs. However, there's no way to know if the increase can be attributed to your TV commercial if you are running simultaneous marketing campaigns as well. For best results, integrate your tracking method into the commercial itself with the right CTA or discount code. Be sure your website is ready to handle the influx of traffic without crashing or that your staff is prepared to answer phone calls whenever the ad airs.

Consider Online Commercials Too

Once you've created a great TV commercial, don't forget that you can distribute it in more than one way to maximize your reach. YouTube commercials, for example, can help you reach an audience that prefers to go online for their entertainment than to flip on the TV. You can also upload the commercial to your social media profiles to make sure that your followers see it. Your website or blog also makes a sensible place for your commercial to live.

Just keep in mind that you'll need to carefully separate data from each avenue in order to determine which one is most successful for your brand and leads to the greatest number of sales or the largest increase in revenue. Until you feel confident that TV commercials are worth producing and airing, consider running them solely on TV and then adding them to online channels later.

After Your First Commercial

After your first round of TV commercials proves successful, you can budget for and design additional commercials to advertise special sales or events. If you don't have the budget to create a commercial each time you have a special sale but you want to create fresh content periodically, consider airing a new commercial that focuses on a specific and popular line of products or that advertises a new service.

Generic advertisements (which don't display time-sensitive sales information, for example) make an excellent investment because you can reuse the commercial at any time for online video advertising, including on YouTube, Facebook or your own website as well as in email marketing campaigns. You can also re-air the footage at a later time when you've rebuilt your television advertising budget.