How to Write a Television Commercial. A thirty second spot on the Superbowl now sells for millions of dollars, yet on local cable one can be had for less than $50. YouTube now puts TV commercials within the reach of anybody who has a camcorder, so no matter what your business, it's great to know how to write an effective spot.
Determine what you are trying to sell. If you can't be clear, your commercial won't be. In 30 seconds you have time to make a single point that is understood immediately. Brainstorm about your product. List its features. Turn these features into benefits for the consumer. Now, put your finger on the strongest single benefit that distinguishes your product, its unique selling proposition. Famous unique selling propositions include Burger King's "Have it Your Way" and "Top Job, Top Job, Cleans floors like ammonia cleans glass."
You have to reach your audience through two senses, hearing and sight. A commercial has to be visually and audibly engaging. The visual choices have to flow out of the message you are selling. In the early days of local cable television advertising, I'll never forget setting up a meeting to discuss an ad campaign between a bank officer in Beverly Hills and my boss who owned a production company. The bank was perfect for us, with three local branches all serviced by one cable system. We were there to convince the Director of Marketing to divert some of his print advertising budget to television. The banker was intrigued until my boss suggested his pet visuals. He had just been to a sand castle competition the weekend before and had become enthralled by the sea side artistry of the designers who invested hours in their creations only to see them washed away by the tides. His eyes lit up as he described how the bank's business could be related to sand castles. We never got past that first idea, because the banker rightly thought that lack of sand castle permanence represented the antithesis of good banking.
Make it entertaining with an easy to remember tag line. Humor can add a lot to a spot, but it has to flow out of the message. Benson and Hedges had the entire country remembering that the company made long cigarettes when the extra length smokes kept getting caught in elevator doors and getting smokers in trouble. I wrote and directed a commercial for a garage called High Tech Auto that was done with no budget, but generated a lot of business. It was the height of simplicity. A grungy shade tree mechanic opens the hood to a woman's car and is baffled by the mess of computer controlled engine parts inside. In response to her question "Can you fix it? He answers "It's your digital carburetor." The voice over then asked, "Is your car more sophisticated than your mechanic?" We then cut to a look at High Tech Auto, specifying what the garage did, how well it was done and where the facility was located. We finished with the shade tree mechanic hammering on the car's engine as smoke poured out while he cried, "I got it now, lady." High Tech Auto had literally dozens of people coming into the shop talking about how they thought the problem with their car was the digital carburetor. The message was straightforward, simple yet fun.
Keep it truthful. Don't over promise. Maybe some of us buy the "lose weight while you sleep" diet supplements, but you can't expect any repeat business if your product or service doesn't deliver as intended.
Include a call to action. Be clear about what you want your viewers to do: pick up the phone, visit your website, buy your book or DVD. As an example here's a current commercial for my latest DVD, Reverse Aging Now: ReverseAgingNow.com
When you finish your script read it out load. Does it seem conversational or stilted? Did you grab the viewer's attention off the top? Did you mention the product name a least twice? Could it be seen as many times? Was your spot interesting from beginning to end?
Test the commercial before you run it. After editing is done, play it with the sound off. Can its purpose be deduced? Play for a group of your friends, just once. Ask if they can recount it. Finally, watch it non stop at least a dozen times. If you find it to be annoying, so will your audience.
Paul M. J. Suchecki has 30 years of experience as an award winning writer, producer and cameraman. He writes, produces and shoots for LA CityView Channel 35. His feature length documentary "Reverse Aging Now," has won a 2007 Telly Award for "outstanding achievment in a health and fitness television program." A Harvard Graduate, he has a Master's of Professional Writing from USC. For more go to his website, www.CheckmatePictures.com.