How Long Should a TV Commercial Be?
TV commercials are one of the most effective ways for companies to reach out to new viewers.
They give brands the opportunity to showcase their unique voice and target particular demographics by advertising on specific programs.
That said, the ideal length for a TV commercial is still somewhat unclear.
TV ad space can be extremely expensive, so running shorter ads can help you save money while engaging with the same number of viewers.
On the other hand, adding time to an ad makes it easier to develop a more interesting message and craft more experimental content.
All things considered, ads of any duration can be successful when the time is used successfully, but timing is still a crucial element in any TV ad campaign.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of commercials, how brands have approached this question in the past, and how you can get the most out of your TV marketing budget.
How Long Were Old TV Commercials?
Just as digital marketing strategies were influenced by longstanding practices in TV advertising, TV marketing was itself influenced by radio ads.
Early radio ads typically ran for a full minute, and this duration was naturally brought over to TV when commercials started to become more common.
Longer ad times generally give the brand more freedom for creativity, but they’re obviously also much more expensive.
Eventually, channels realized that they could often get more money from advertisers by selling twice as many ad slots and cutting the length of each ad in half.
From there, 30-second commercials became the standard, although longer and shorter TV ads are still common.
This is particularly true for online content providers and streaming services like YouTube and Hulu, which may run ads for as little as six seconds.
What’s the Ideal Duration in 2021?
Of course, companies were forced to adapt as timing conventions changed over time.
Long-form ads allow marketers to include more details, while contemporary six-second ads barely give them enough time for a slogan.
In fact, you can estimate how much content you’ll have time for depending on the length of a given ad slot.
15 seconds are enough for roughly 30 to 40 words, while 30 seconds can hold around 60 to 80 without feeling rushed.
A full-minute ad could contain 150 or more words depending on pacing.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that 60-second ads are often highly informative compared to their shorter counterparts.
In many cases, 60 seconds are enough to perform relatively detailed demonstrations or explain the functions and benefits of a given product.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that longer ads can’t have a personality of their own.
The Slack video below shows how TV ads can be highly informative while still maintaining a unique style.
Viewers will immediately understand what Slack can do for them even though the ad doesn’t spend much time explaining the details of particular features.
In general, the average length of TV ads has gone down over time.
Brands want the opportunity to make more impressions for less money, TV networks want the opportunity to sell as many ad slots as possible, and consumers are more likely to respond to a larger number of short ads than a smaller number of long ads.
This is particularly true in the modern world, where attention spans have decreased to as little as eight seconds.
The advertising industry has been moving toward shorter ads for decades, but 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.
YouTube, for example, typically charges based on impressions rather than the length of the ad, and you generally won’t be charged if a user skips your ad as soon as the option is available.
With that in mind, the right length will depend on your goals for the ad rather than the price of particular ad slots.
Are Shorter Ads More Cost-Effective?
In short, there are a number of factors contributing to the gradual reduction in commercial length.
That being said, shorter doesn’t always mean more efficient, particularly given that longer ads are typically cheaper on a per-second basis.
A 30-second ad often runs 75% of the cost of a 60-second ad, so you don’t necessarily have to pay twice as much for an ad that’s twice as long.
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 at least three to five 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.
Crafting Short TV Ads (15 seconds or less)
In the video below, you can see how a wide range of brands approach ad slots as short as five seconds.
Marketers generally focus on producing unique impressions that make the ad stand out immediately.
They also make the brand name extremely prominent in order to develop the association with it faster.
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.
Short ads typically don’t give marketers enough time to craft complex visual content, so it’s better to go with something simple in such a limited time frame.
Marketers have shown a growing tendency to break the fourth wall, and Geico uses that technique to great effect in their quick five-second ad.
Just saying “you can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over” is enough to catch the viewer’s attention and establish some common ground.
Five seconds is rarely enough to sell a product or discuss brand values, so the most important thing is simply being memorable.
Humor and irony are reliable ways to make your ad more interesting, but they probably won’t lead to an immediate sale.
On the other hand, 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.
It only takes a few seconds to tell viewers that you offer the same product as your competitors at a much lower price.
You’ll be able to generate even more interest by advertising limited-time offers that give viewers a greater sense of urgency.
Crafting Longer TV Ads (30 seconds or longer)
Even though short ad slots can be cost-effective when used correctly, there are numerous benefits to paying more for longer ads.
Increasing the duration of an ad gives you more time to work with and more opportunities to put your brand’s unique qualities on display.
Furthermore, you can usually double an ad’s time without doubling costs.
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.
Of course, this is heavily dependent on your target TV channel, so you shouldn’t expect consistent pricing from different options.
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 in 30 or 60 seconds, but you should still be aware of the unique opportunities that are available in long-form advertising.
Furthermore, ad slots that are at least 30 seconds provide more than enough time for marketers to introduce repetition into their content.
As mentioned earlier, repetition is key to getting your brand to stick in the minds of your viewers, especially during the first interactions.
For example, you might repeat your brand name at the beginning, middle, and end of a 30-second ad.
The extra time could also give you room to cover product information including demonstrations, specifications, benefits, and testimonials.
While shorter ads are generally limited to quick slogans, 30 and 60-second slots allow brands to discuss more details and focus on the benefits of what they’re selling.
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 2020, but it’s still critical to consider timing when developing TV campaigns.
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.