You Oughta Be in Pictures

by Patricia Fitzgerald

Think TV ads are only for big brands with big budgets? Think again. For small businesses targeting localized audiences, TV advertising can be much more affordable — and effective — than you might assume. We know: We’ve done multiple TV ads for our small-business clients, with some pretty great results.

We hear you asking the question: Is TV still relevant, especially in the age of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services? In a word: Yes. According to Nielsen (the consummate boob-tube audience trackers), TV advertising continues to boast the highest return on advertising spend. People are still watching live TV — an average of 4 ½ hours a day. While folks over the age of 50 watch the most live programming (around 50 hours a week), 25-34 years-olds binge about 26 ½ hours a week and 35-49 years-olds zone out in front of their favorite live shows about 36 ½ hours a week. Source

Some of our more (ahem) seasoned readers might remember a time when you had but a handful of TV channels to choose from. Today, there are like a gazillion. While making the remote a lot more complicated, the proliferation of TV stations and programming has made it easier for small businesses to advertise their wares on the idiot box.

Think Local, Spend Less

So how much can you expect to shell out for your TV spots? That depends on multiple factors. If you’re planning on advertising during the Super Bowl, your ad will cost you around $4 million — give or take a million. A 30-second spot broadcasted nationally is a steal comparatively, running you around $123,000. 

Better yet, leave the national advertising to the big guys with their big budgets. In many cases, small businesses only need to reach a local audience. A hair salon in Dallas isn’t pining for customers from Des Moines. If your target customers are within a 50-mile radius, advertising on local programming will be a much more affordable option — and a more effective use of your advertising dollars. 

For a general idea of cost, a locally broadcasted spot can run anywhere from $500 to $5,000 depending on when it’s aired and how many people view it. To get a better understanding of these costs, it helps to know how TV advertising is priced. TV ads costs are based on Cost per Thousand (CPM) — in other words, the cost for your ad to be eyeballed by 1,000 people. CPM varies from city to city; CPM will be much higher for ads run in Los Angeles, for instance, than ads run in Poughkeepsie.

So let’s say you decide to run your ad in LA. The local station you’re running it on estimates that 10,000 people will see your ad. If the CPM is $35 (which sounds about right for the LA market), then you can expect to pay $3,500 for a 60-second ad. Decidedly more doable than $123,000, right?

Still too rich for your blood? There are other things you can do to keep your CPM costs low and your TV advertising more affordable. We cover some of those strategies next.

Decisions, Decisions

The choices you make about your TV ad can have a pretty big impact on the cost to make and run it. Here are some key decisions you’ll need to address, and what they mean for your advertising budget.

Who’s Watching?

You’ll want to identify who should ideally be seeing your TV ad. That includes age range and gender. Determining these basic demographics will help you decide on which TV stations and shows to air your ad, so you’re more likely to reach the right audience.

Say for example, you’re looking to target women between the ages of 35 and 50. You’ll have more luck advertising during an episode of Ellen than you would Fox Business. Conversely, if you’re trying to reach men above the age of 65, then Fox Business may be the better way to go.

Cable Vs. Broadcast

You have two basic choices for placing your TV ad: Broadcast or cable. Broadcast includes local affiliates like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. Cable includes stations that cost extra to watch, such as FX, AMC, ESPN, or CNN. It’s usually less expensive to advertise on a local broadcast station than it is on a cable station, especially if you’re running your spot in a smaller city or town. But keep in mind, you can often target your viewers more specifically and precisely with cable shows, which tend to be more niche.

Wherever you decide to run your ad, be sure to ask the station to show you the Nielsen data on who watches the show. That way you’ll be sure you’re reaching the right audience.

Day or Night

The time of day (or night) your TV spot runs will also affect the cost. The prime-time of slots is considered evening, when folks are home from work or school and gathered around the boob tube. Advertising during prime time will cost you more, simply because more people will be watching. 

Day time shows tend to be much cheaper time slots for ads. If you expect your target audience to be home during the day (such as retirees or new moms), then advertising in the afternoon might be the better and more affordable choice.

Beat the Rush

Similarly, the cost of your TV ad will vary depending on the time of year you run it. TV advertising seasons are broken up into quarters — with the fourth quarter falling right before the holidays. There’s a rush of advertising in the fourth quarter, so ads that run then will be more expensive. 

Falling at the beginning of the year, the first quarter tends to be a more affordable time to advertise. After blowing their budgets on holiday advertising, many businesses tend to lay low during the first quarter. With less competition for ad space, stations may be more willing to negotiate price. 

Media Planner, Please

Choosing the shows, time of day/year, and frequency with which you run your TV ads is extremely important, and can mean the difference between seeing results and hearing crickets. If you have the budget, we highly recommend hiring a media planner to help you create a strategic plan for your ad placements. 

Your media planner should be able to negotiate the best pricing from the stations you advertise with, as well as secure value-adds (freebies) stations sometimes offer such as free banner ads or 10-second radio announcements. An experienced media planner will be able to stretch your budget and save you money. Coincidentally, we happen to partner with an outstanding media planner who’d be happy to discuss what she does (and does so well) with you in more detail. So just let us know and we’ll put you in touch.

But Wait, There’s More

TV ads generally come in the following varieties: 10-second, 15-second, 30-second, and 60-second spots. If you’re planning something more along the lines of an infomercial, you can run longer than a minute. Just be sure your product is infomercial-worthy.

Direct response TV, also known as performance-based media placement, can be an affordable alternative to traditional TV advertising. That’s because with DRTV, you only pay when a viewer takes a specific action — for example, calling your 800 number or visiting your website — after seeing your ad. This is a low-risk option, but not all local stations offer DRTV so be sure to ask.  

And Action

TV ads don’t make themselves. Luckily, production doesn’t have to consume your entire year’s budget — especially with today’s high-quality digital handheld cameras and digital editing. But, unless you're Spike Jones, we caution you against making your own TV spots. 

Most local stations will offer the services of their in-house production team to create your TV ad for you. This can be a very affordable option, especially since stations will sometimes lower their production costs if you purchase multiple ads with them.

We recommend hiring an experienced production team to create your ad — ideally, a team that can write the script, shoot and edit the footage, add audio and music, and deliver the spot to the station in one neat package. Hiring professionals to produce your spot can cost you a few thousand dollars on the low end, depending on whether you need to hire talent, the size of the film crew, and the complexity of the equipment they use.

It’s best to determine your production budget before hand, and be realistic about what you’re willing to spend. Then find a production firm that can work within that range. Beware the company that tells you they can make your TV ad for $500 or less. More than likely you’ll end up with a low quality spot that reflects poorly on your business.

One Ad Ain’t Gonna Cut It

If after scrimping and saving, you only come up with enough budget for one TV ad — don’t do it. You’re better off spending that money on other marketing efforts. To be truly effective, you’ll need to run multiple ads that get seen by the same audience over a span of time. 

After the third or fourth ad, your viewers will start to recognize and remember you. And they’ll be more likely to call, visit your website, or walk into your establishment. Another reason to run more than one ad is package pricing. Many stations may be willing to give you discounted costs if you purchase several weeks worth of advertising space at once.

You’ll also want to supplement your TV ads with other marketing tactics. We usually recommend running print ads in local publications as well as on social media outlets and websites as part of an overall cohesive campaign. With each ad reinforcing the others, you’re more likely to see an uptick in response. 

If you plan on making sales calls, time them around your ad placements to give your sales team (or yourself) something to talk about with prospects (“Hey, did you happen to see our awesome ads?”) Give some consideration as to how you plan to track the response rate of your TV ad. This could be as simple as including a custom URL your viewers can visit, or a unique 800 number they can call. You can use a different URL or 800 number for each ad to see which one was most effective.

TV Ads at Work

For our client Rowntree Gardens, a senior living community, we typically run a mix of 15-, 30-, and 60-second TV spots on local stations during daytime programming that has a high percentage of viewers over the age of 55. To save on costs, we film the spots using two handheld digital cameras, minimal lighting, and basic sound equipment. We also use actual Rowntree community members and staff as the talent, saving the costs of hiring professional actors.

To supplement the TV spots, we run concurrent print, Facebook, and banner ads as well as 60-second radio spots as part of the same campaign. For each campaign, we typically alternate between three cycles of ads, each one running about four weeks. Since running the campaigns, Rowntree Gardens has seen a dramatic increase in phone calls and now has a waiting list of new residents. Just goes to show, TV advertising really does work when it’s done right. View the Rowntree Gardens TV ads here, and here.

If you’re wondering whether TV advertising is within your budget, or even worth investing in, give us a call. We’ll talk it over and give you our honest opinion. And, if you're interested, an honest price for producing your spot. 

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