sly : marketing

Elements of a Successful TV Commercial

This is a guest post from Amanda Green

Amanda Green

An effective TV commercial has many of the same attributes as a good movie. How often have you sought out a funny ad to rewatch it on the internet? That’s the dream of all advertisers—the viewer actually enjoying being sold something. We usually don’t think of commercials as mini movies, but it’s amazing how much of a story you can tell in 30 seconds or less.

If you have voluntarily subjected yourself to watching commercials you’ve already seen, you’re probably doing it because you’re entertained. The most successful commercials are just plain fun to watch. But to say movies and a rare few commercials are entertaining is much too simplistic, because there are a thousand different reasons why we find things entertaining. Let’s break it down.


Our minds latch onto emotions more than words and images, and when we do retain vivid images or words in our memories, it’s because we’ve associated them with some emotion. Even apparently shallow action movies and slapstick comedies evoke emotions strong enough in us to keep us coming back. If you want people to enjoy a commercial, identify the emotions you want them to feel. Do this during the planning and conceptual phase instead of allowing it to “just develop” or be inserted by the director.

The emotions you want to evoke in viewers depend on your product. If you’re a local mechanic, you’ll want to convey trust, which means making viewers feel comfortable or at ease. If you’re selling a car or new gadget, you’ll want to impress the viewer so much that they’ll experience dissatisfaction with what they currently have and want to upgrade to what you’re offering. Unfortunately, the most common emotions appealed to in advertising are fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Whether you agree with the ethics implied in scaring people into buying, it can be very effective, although not very entertaining. Just think of the last commercial you saw for a home security system.


You probably have something to say, or you wouldn’t be wasting money on air time and production expenses. The tricky part sometimes, is knowing just what to say, and what not to. The most common mistake is to try to say too much. Remember, there’s a difference between a commercial and an infomercial! As you plan your ad pick one, maybe two things you want to express about your product, but no more than that. For example, convenience. Or low cost. Or luxury and exclusivity. Why would someone want to buy your product? You probably have quite a list, which means if you want to talk about all of them, you’re going to need to make more than one commercial.

Commercials are just too short to include a bunch of information and still keep them entertaining and memorable. On average, people need to see an ad seven times before it’s firmly enough embedded in their minds to make them act on it. If spouting 10 different reasons people should buy your product, they won’t remember any of them. If you limit it to one or two, they might remember after a few times watching.

The Call to Action

You’ll typically want to include a call to action in your TV ad. This could be a “Call this number now!” repeated five times or a statement about what retail outlets carry a product. This can work well, however it lacks… sophistication. Many extremely successful commercials don’t ever ask you to do anything. That’s because they’re using an implied call to action, which is typically tied to the emotions they want you to feel.

A great example of an implied call to action is the old prototypical beer commercial—attractive people playing beach volleyball when suddenly, ice cold beer cans start raining from the sky without giving anyone a concussion. They never tell you to go buy a six pack, but what they’re saying is, “Go buy a six pack and even you, who haven’t left your couch in a week, can experience a small part of this party life!” It’s subtle, and it’s the difference between telling someone to buy, and getting them to want to buy.

There’s more to consider when planning a TV ad, but an entire book could be written on the topic. If you understand these basics and find a quality production that knows the rest, you can make an extremely effective commercial.

Commercials cost a lot to air and can cost a lot to produce so you may want to look at hiring a creative ad agency to help you come up with something that will leave a lasting impression.

About the Author: Amanda is a online blogger in her spare time normally writing about business, finance, and marketing, however she has been known to hop around the blogosphere and write on topics like fashion and even Eco topics. Her main focus is finance relating to the business world and you can find her each and every morning with the WSJ and NY Times finance sections.

30 responses to “Elements of a Successful TV Commercial”

  1. Joe Boyle says:

    The sad thing about television advertisements is that their quality went straight down. The original goal of a commercial was to show why you NEED their product. It seems like it’s changed completely, though – the commercials make less and less sense and have very little logic in real world scenarios.

    Something very odd is happening, though. People are actually watching more commercials and buying more things. I’m a big football fan, but I know a lot of my family and friends only watch the Superbowl for the commercials. When have we ever had a society where viewing commercials is something that’s positive? Never! Perhaps we are being introduced to a new system of just completely insanity that APPEALS TO THE VIEWERS BRAIN? It’s worth thinking about! Great post!

    • Hi Joe,

      I agree with you about the TV ads. I hardly don’t watch them anymore, but when I do, I can’t say that I have seen any that are worth watching. It might be different in other countries, but I haven’t seen any good TV commercials in Norway in a very long time.

  2. Kit Kat says:

    I believe that a sucessful advertisement should have the effect of getting the viewers wanting to buy your product. That is creating the desire to want to own something.

  3. Aasma says:

    “Call to action” is must for any marketing technique, If you’re not mentioning any call to action then you certainly missing out many potential customers.

  4. Josepgh Hipolito says:

    I agree with Joe, and advertisement in television was really fast… If you want to see it again you must stay put in the front of your T.V.

  5. Mark says:

    It’s just cool reading about how to effectively leverage something other than social media. That doesn’t happen much in our community Jens, at least the one were mutually part of. Maybe my head is in the sand 😮

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes, I agree. It was something completely different than social media. Actually, I am not sure when I read about something other than social media, that’s a long time ago 🙂

  6. Brain says:

    TV advertisement must have to include interesting concept which can attract audience. As above given information emotional and meaningful ads easily become popular. TV commercial has short time period to attract people so, it is important to include some easy concept into advertisement.

  7. Brett Slater says:

    I absolutely agree about emotion in ads. Make people “feel” something. But it’s important that you tie that feeling to the product or service being advertised: “How will buying this thing make me feel BETTER?”

    When you say, “The most successful commercials are just plain fun to watch,” I have to respectfully dissent. The most successful commercials are the ones which make the advertiser’s sales increase. THAT should be the defining purpose of any ad, not how fun it is. Can you really call an entertaining ad “successful” if at the end of the campaign, sales are flat? A successful ad will directly associate with the product. You want people to say, “I saw a great ad for E-Trade.” Not, “I saw a great ad with a talking baby.” If you can’t remember the name of the advertiser, I wouldn’t call it a success, either.

    As far as Call to Action, I, for one, don’t believe in “implied.” Why imply? Tell! Say it, and don’t leave any doubt as to what you want people to do next. “Visit… Call today… Shop online at…” May not be “sophisticated,” but the idea is to sell widgets, not win Addy awards.

    Most importantly, a successful ad is not about you. It’s about the customers you want to sell to.

    • Hi Brett,

      That’s some very interesting things you bring up. What we tend to look at highly successful ads, because we want to watch them over and over again, might in fact not be that successful when it comes to sales. And like you said, the reason we make ads is to increase the sales. On the other hand we’re also creating ads for brand awareness.

      Awesome comment Brett. Thank you so much.

  8. Adrienne says:

    My brother and I use to joke all the time Amanda that we could come up with better ads then they have on TV.

    I haven’t watch a commercial in probably five years now so it’s very hard for me to relate to this but they would definitely have to grab my attention in order to keep me interested. That I will agree.

    Thanks for sharing this.


    • I bet you and your brother could come up with a lot better ads than they have on TV 🙂

      The TV ads I watch are the ones that are being shared on social media, and that’s probably the best (or the worst) ads 🙂

  9. Sigrid says:

    Your cool tips could be adapted in any online marketing strategies as well, thanks for sharing them!

  10. At the moment I think VW does the absolute best job of this.

    And I think huge part of their success is through brilliant advertising.

    Why do I say this? Because like everyone else, I’m really good at tuning out ads (kind of easy with a DVR ;)) but whenever I see a VW commercial I pay attention. (The kid in the Darth Vader costume is one of the best ads of the past few years).

    Creative execution, telling a story and having a clear message that’s done in a crafty, subtle way. Some ads are very creative, but don’t do their job. These ads do.

    Don Draper would be proud.

  11. Jack says:

    I watch the Superbowl because I like football but I do enjoy watching the ads. It is enjoyable on multiple levels not the least of which is the chance to pick them apart and see how they built their message.

  12. The real challenge for TV Commercial makers nowadays is not about making complicated scenes, settings or characters. It is now all about creating great impact and attention-catching moments to the clients even through simple acts or simple peg.

  13. Jason Homes says:

    Commercials should grab the attention of the viewer because these short breaks are the time when they are having a break for their eyes from watching the TV show.

  14. Emotion, Action, Call to Action, are indeed a great way to boost TV Commercial.

  15. I don’t really watch TV, I watch TV commercial mostly on YouTube.

  16. Thanks for these vital elements. Of all 3 elements I’d say emotion is of paramount importance as it allow you to connect with your audience on deeper levels

  17. Jan says:

    I think TV commercials and writing articles are almost the same as they always have the 3 elements mentioned here. 🙂

    • The only problem with TV commercials is that they’re push marketing, people don’t watch TV to watch commercials, but with articles it’s different. People are looking for the articles (pull marketing).

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