TV commercials are one of the most effective ways to reach out to new customers.
They give you a chance to showcase your brand and connect with a particular audience that matches your target demographics.
If you’re preparing to run a commercial, the first question you need to ask yourself is how long you want the final product to be.
TV ad space can be extremely expensive, so short commercials are an easy way to get impressions for less.
On the other hand, longer ads give you the chance to experiment with the content and tell a story that will resonate with viewers.
All things considered, you can create an incredible commercial or a forgettable one at any duration.
The most important thing is how you use the time to catch the audience’s attention.
In this article, we’ll look at the history of commercials, go over some great TV ad examples, and explain how to get the most out of your TV marketing budget.
When a new advertising method becomes available, marketers usually start by applying the strategies they’re already using.
Just as early digital marketing strategies were heavily influenced by TV, the first TV commercials were closer to radio ads than the TV commercials we’re used to today.
Most early radio ads were one minute long, and this standard was naturally applied to TV.
Eventually, channels realized that they could get more money by cutting ad slots to 30 seconds and selling twice as many.
30-second commercials quickly became the standard, but 15-second and one-minute slots are still common.
More recently, platforms like YouTube and Hulu have transformed the advertising landscape.
YouTube ads, for example, can be as short as six seconds.
With many users looking to skip the ad as soon as possible, marketers are forced to develop new ways to pique viewers’ interest.
The right length for a TV commercial depends on several factors including your product, brand image, goals, and the channel or platform you’re advertising on.
Long-form ads enable you to include more details, while the aforementioned six-second ads barely offer enough time for a slogan.
Before you can decide on an ad slot, you need to consider what you want the commercial to accomplish.
Are you hoping to show a product demo? Play clips from a customer testimonial?
You’ll probably need at least 30 seconds — or even a full minute — to cover this kind of in-depth content.
If you just want to maximize impressions or outreach, you can achieve those goals for a lot less money with a shorter ad slot.
Everything comes down to your ideas for the ad.
Voice artists typically speak about 100-150 words per minute, so you can estimate the maximum word count for a commercial voice over based on the length of the ad slot.
15 seconds are enough for roughly 30 to 40 words, 30 seconds can hold around 60 to 80, and a full-minute ad will give you up to around 150.
Of course, this also depends on pacing.
If you’re working with a voice actor who has a slower, leisurely tone, they may only be able to read 100 or 120 words in a minute.
You’ll also need to consider any pauses or transitions in the script.
Still having doubts? Try recording yourself reading the script out loud.
Don’t worry about timing or visuals yet — just read it out at a comfortable pace.
This will give you a better idea of the time constraints and even help you revise the script.
Some ideas look great on paper, but they don’t quite land when it’s spoken out loud.
In general, the average length of TV ads has gone down over time.
Brands want to make more impressions for less money, TV networks want to sell more ad slots, and consumers are more likely to respond to a larger number of shorter ads.
This is particularly true in the modern world, where attention spans have decreased dramatically in the smartphone era.
The rise of online content has accelerated this trend even further.
Web users have different preferences than TV viewers, and the ads themselves are often priced differently.
Online content tends to be shorter than traditional TV episodes, which naturally also leads to shorter ads.
Additionally, YouTube typically charges based on impressions rather than the length of the ad.
With regular TV ads, it doesn’t matter if the viewer is focused on your ad or getting a drink in the other room.
On the other hand, when you advertise on YouTube, you won’t have to pay if the viewer skips as soon as the option is available.
With that in mind, advertising strategies can be very different depending on the platform, audience, message, and more.
The growth of online video content opened up a critical new opportunity for marketers: segmentation.
Segmentation is the process of targeting ads to particular audiences.
TV offers some targeting capabilities — such as advertising toys on a kids’ show — but modern segmentation tools go much further.
Google, for example, offers a wide range of filters that marketers can use to reach specific audiences. These include:
Segmentation is a crucial aspect of digital marketing because it enables you to pay for exactly what you need.
By narrowing down your audience, you can avoid wasting your ad budget on viewers who are unlikely to convert.
It’s no surprise that marketers are moving away from the conventional 30-second TV commercial in favor of short-form ads on YouTube and other online platforms.
In short, there are a number of factors contributing to the gradual reduction in commercial length.
Deciding whether to develop more short commercials or fewer long ones ultimately comes down to your evaluation of ad length vs. frequency.
For example, you might wonder whether it’s best to show a customer one 60-second ad, two 30-second ads, or ten six-second ads.
While there isn’t necessarily a “right answer” to that question, running short ads comes with its own set of challenges.
Even though this might make it easier for customers to remember the name of your brand, it will be tough to communicate a meaningful message in six or fifteen seconds.
On the other hand, Pandora found that audio ads can effectively connect with audiences in as little as eight seconds, especially for younger audiences.
It’s important to consider your target demographics when developing new campaigns and considering the impact of ad length.
Furthermore, customers often engage with a brand seven or more times before making their first purchase or even seeking out more information.
Short ad slots can be an effective way to get your foot in the door on a smaller budget, especially if you’re just trying to get your name out there.
Short ads are all about inspiration and efficiency.
You need something that pops, and pops quickly.
With 15 seconds or less, each individual second counts that much more.
The video below is a great place to start if you’re looking for ideas.
You’ll see how some of the top global brands have approached ad slots just five seconds long.
Notice that these ads put a strong emphasis on the company name and other brand materials.
Geico, for example, leaves the brand name on the screen for the entire five seconds, using a static image along with a short voice over.
Marketers have shown a growing tendency to break the fourth wall, and Geico uses that technique to great effect as well.
“You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over” is quirky, unconventional, and totally subverts expectations.
This commercial doesn’t say anything about Geico’s products, but it will stick in the viewer’s head more than most five-second ads.
With such limited time, you probably won’t be able to craft complex visual content, and your audience won’t have time to interpret that anyway.
It’s better to go with something simple, memorable, and straight to the point.
The same logic applies to voice overs.
When hiring someone to voice a short ad, you should look for an actor with a unique voice who can immediately pull attention to the ad.
Short TV ads can be incredibly lucrative when used to get the word out about new products, deep discounts, and other can’t-miss items.
For example, Apple doesn’t need much ad time to get people interested in the latest iPhone.
Sure, there are new technologies and features, but a sleek image and the Apple logo will be enough to drive millions in sales.
Similarly, it only takes a few seconds to say that you offer a particular product at a lower price.
In short, the most important aspect of a short ad is that it’s unique enough to engage viewers in a limited time.
Even though short ad slots can be cost-effective when used correctly, there are numerous benefits to paying more for longer ads.
For one, you’ll have more time to work with and more opportunities to put your unique qualities on display.
It’s also worth noting that you can often get twice as much ad time for less than twice the cost.
For example, if a 30-second ad costs $7,500 at a given station, you might be able to get a full minute for as little as $10,000.
It’s the same idea as buying bulk items at the grocery store to spend less money overall.
Of course, this is highly variable from one platform to another, so you’ll have to ask directly.
If you’re working with a longer time slot, you’ll have the chance to develop narratives and storylines that simply wouldn’t be possible in ten or fifteen seconds.
You don’t necessarily have to tell a full story, but you still need to think about ways to maximize the value of that extra time.
Sometimes, this is as simple as repetition.
As mentioned earlier, repetition is a key element of brand recognition.
The more times you see or hear something, the more memorable it becomes.
While a five- or ten-second ad will only give you time for a single mention, you could repeat key information at least two or three times in a 30-second slot.
The extra time could also enable you to cover product information including demonstrations, specifications, benefits, and testimonials.
Of course, just because you’re investing in a longer ad slot doesn’t mean your content needs to be serious or even product-driven.
The Chevy commercial featuring our own Robert Sciglimpaglia below is a classic example of an ad that makes the most of its 60 seconds while still injecting humor.
There isn’t a perfect length for TV commercials in 2024, but it’s still critical to consider timing when developing TV campaigns.
Once you know the goal and idea behind a particular commercial, you can start to think about the right ad length for that campaign
These tips will help you get the right ad slot for your content and make the most of your TV marketing budget in terms of both outreach and sales.
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