How to Get a Commercial on TV

by Fraser Sherman - Updated September 26, 2017
Portrait of a mid adult couple watching television with their son

A 30-second Super-Bowl ad costs more than $2 million. If you set your sights lower and target your local market, the price for a half-minute of air time might be under $100. TV is particularly ideal for advertising if you have a strongly visual product, such as jewelry or cars. However, you'll have to strategize carefully to get the most for your money.

Create the Commercial

Your advertising budget has to cover producing a commercial as well as airing it. Plan on spending at least $2,500 to make the commercial. The price depends in part on your concept; just showing off your bakery's fabulous desserts should be comparatively cheap. Hiring actors or writing a mini-story for them to perform costs more. You can make your own ad if you have the skills, work with an ad agency or contract with a TV station's ad department. The more help you need, the more you pay.

Find the Right Venue

Figuring out when and where your ad should air is essential. Whether your target market is seniors or first-time homeowners, you want the ad to air when potential customers are watching. To boost a Labor Day or Black Friday sale, you need your ad broadcast during the run-up periods. That may cost more, as many businesses have sales to promote. Talk to your local cable company or TV station ad rep and ask for demographics on different channels and TV shows.

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Negotiate the Deal

If you are concerned only with reaching your local area, a local broadcaster or independent station may be able to offer a good deal. Alternatively, you can talk to your local cable provider. Cable companies offer national ads reaching their entire broadcast area, but they also air cheaper spot ads on specific channels in specific markets. You and the company's ad rep negotiate how many times you want the commercial to air, for how many weeks, at which times and on which shows. Paying upfront and stretching commercials over 10 to 13 weeks can get you a better rate.

Traffic Management

Don't assume that once you've filmed your commercial, you can close the deal and see it air that night. Air time is television's inventory; having dead air is like a restaurant having no diners. Stations and networks have a traffic manager whose job is to schedule commercials well in advance, so there's no unused air time. You may be able to get a last-minute opening, but it will probably cost more. Talk to the advertising rep about how much in advance you need to book your slots.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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