What Makes an Effective Local Television Commercial?

August 30, 2016 Advertising Questions

In this era of the internet, with so many advertising choices, television advertising seems like an out of date, almost quaint medium from a bygone era. But the truth is, television viewership continues to be at extremely high levels. So before talking about what makes an effective local TV commercial, perhaps we should first talk about why to choose television advertising in the first place.

television in dumpster

The common perception of television advertising is that it’s expensive. Most small businesses look at this first and say, “I can’t afford TV spots.” But, upon closer inspection, cost is just part of the equation. The second is, what ROI does television advertising return? And that’s where the rubber meets the road. If done right, local television advertising can be extremely cost effective, giving you a higher return on your investment than many other forms of advertising such as direct mail, pay-per-click advertising, etc.

Doing Local Advertising Right

The key to effective local television advertising, as is true for any form of advertising, is to make it memorable. And not just memorable for memory’s sake. It has to be remembered in a positive light. My favorite example is the campaign that E*Trade launched for the Super Bowl a number of years ago that featured monkeys behind a desk. Very funny. But it didn’t exactly give me a ton of confidence in E*Trade as a reputable company.

The same is true for local TV spots. If you go for the laugh and the shock value, you may be remembered, but will you be thought of as a valued company to do business with? Perhaps not. Instead, picture yourself as the viewer. What companies’ ads illicit positive messages that earn your respect and moreover, move you to consider doing business with them? Those are the ads you want to emulate.

How to keep it professional on a budget

Getting back to the money, creating and airing a television spot that returns on its investment requires two things: keeping production standards as high as you can, and expertly managing the media buying and placement.

We’ve all seen commercials that feature the owner of the business, perhaps a car dealership, being shot on the lot in front of cars. Typically, the audio for this is horrible, colors are washed out, and the message is on par with that of a carny barking out “Step right up!”

Laura Gonzales, owner of Raven Marketing, an advertising agency in Portland, Oregon says that local ads needn’t “feel” local. “Our approach to local TV advertisements is present the highest production values we can. In the mind of the viewer, this automatically gives the ad a measure of respect and believability.”  Laura went on to say that for roughly the same cost as those live shot, talking head commercials, the ad can be expertly voiced, with beautiful graphics and an inspiring soundtrack. A great example of this is an ad for the Western Washington Honda Dealers. It feels like a national ad, but was relatively inexpensive to create and was very effective in promoting their clearance event.

Another option is to go with still shots rather than video. See this TV spot for Re-Bath. Professional voice-over coupled with excellent graphics surrounding still shots made for an effective commercial.

The Formula

TV commercials can have many different structures and are designed with different goals in mind. But there is an underlying formula most ads use that is the most effective for getting your message across and having it be remembered by the viewer. Say it, Explain it, and Repeat it.

Say It

With a short timeframe in which to grab the viewer’s attention, there’s not time to be cute. Get to the point of the ad in your first few sentences.

Explain it

Now that you’ve gotten your viewer’s attention, it’s time to explain the details of your first statement. If you’ve announced a sale going on, explain what’s on sale, the discounts, and how the sale lasts.

Repeat it

Now it’s time to remind them of your headline. Repeating the point of your ad will give the viewer another memory of what the spot is about. Adding a call-to-action along with this, plants a seed for behavior in their brain.


Local television advertising isn’t a one-off exercise. Have faith that with repetition and good placement, a high-quality TV spot can outperform other media most times.