Tips for Writing TV Commercials

Television commercials are one of those things in life that people seem to either really enjoy or really hate. While some people hate all commercials, most are only upset by the commercials that seem senseless, crude or stupid to them. Super Bowl advertising and the audience's mixed reactions to different advertising strategies are a great example of this phenomenon in television commercials.

If a TV commercial gets the attention of the target market and holds it for 30 seconds, it's not too important whether they hate it or like it, it is an effective commercial. If the information given is retained along with the name of the sponsor, a commercial is very successful. Even if people are saying how crappy the ad is, they are talking about it and that is what the advertiser is paying for. Ideally the word on the street would be positive, but even negative opinions and discussions can result in increased popularity. Case in point -- Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Anna Nicole-Smith coem to mind.

So what is the difference between a successful TV commercial and an advertisement that falls flat on its face?

One of the top answers given to that question is how much money is spent to produce a particular Television commercial. That answer is wrong. I was named Montana Television Copywriter of the Year by submitting three ads I wrote that were produced for less than $250 each. Another popular response is who the celebrity spokesperson is. While the casting of a certain celebrity spokesperson has a bigger effect than the amount of money spent on production, he or she or it is still not going to make a commercial work or fail. How much is spent on airing the TV commercial? Nope. Still not getting it.

The one single element that will make or break a television advertising campaign is the person or team of writers that write the commercials. This is the element that is monumentally more important than production costs, celebrity endorsements and targeting specific demographics to see the advertisements. The copywriter, with the cooperation of the client, is who pulls all of the above elements together to come up with the finished commercial.

In my experiences I've identified three types of television copywriters. There are those that play it safe and repeatedly write the same type of ad that is familiar and has worked in the past. An example of these commercials would be those for many automobile dealerships and furniture outlet stores. It's a basic plug in the make and model formula and receives mediocre results based on saturation of low cost air times. The theory here is that if they cram the name of the business down the viewer's throat enough times, they'll think of that business first when it's time to buy that new car or living room suite.

The second type of copywriter is totally opposite to the ones who play it safe and have a tendency to push their concepts beyond the limits of most human comprehension. In my opinion, there's nothing quite as irritating as watching a 30 second commercial and after it's finished not have any clue what the product or service being advertised was, or even what the concept of the ad was. I would give some examples here but I don't know what they were so I can't even describe them to you.

Finally, the writer of television commercials that get noticed and talked about long after they've finished airing is a person of creative vision and multi-tasking abilities. Their job is to know the market, know the product or service being advertised, know the business they are promoting in their ads, know what the client has done previously with advertising, know their production people, and most importantly know the audience that will buy this product or service.

The successful television copywriter must be able to combine what the client wants or needs with many other elements prior to even beginning working on a concept. Once an idea is agreed upon by all relevant parties, the copywriter has to put together a combination of talent, message, and video and audio that will trigger the buying emotion of their target audience.

I suspect one of the reasons I was successful as a copywriter is because I obsessed over finding a new and unique way to present my clients and their products to the public. I bore easily, so to keep my job from being boring and monotonous, I was constantly trying to come up with ways to infuse excitement into each commercial.

My biggest challenge was how to educe the desired emotion out of the viewer. It could be sadness, laughter, guilt, happiness or fear that would get the viewer's attention. I knew that if a commercial could hold onto that attention for 30 seconds, odds they'd shop for that product were significantly increased. I learned if I could write an advertisement that stirred those emotions in myself, chances were good it would work on the audience. I was usually correct.

One final suggestion for writing effective copy for television commercials is to not speak above your audience, don't speak down to them and don't speak at them. Write in a voice that speaks with the audience on their terms. How else can you expect them to share the message your client's television commercial is delivering.

Published by Sundance McGee

I write, I speak, I laugh. Public Relations/Communications professional that defies political propaganda and rhetoric. Political critic. Public Advocate. Former U.S. Navy Broadcast Journalist. Award Winnin...  View profile

  • What is the difference between a successful TV commercial and an advertisement that fails?
  • I've identified three types of television copywriters.
  • Write in a voice that speaks with the audience on their terms.