TV commercials are not like other media. A reader browsing a website has plenty of time to absorb information and can even reread copy that is interesting or informative.
However, TV commercials happen in real time. Most local spots run 30 seconds. That’s all the time you have to tell the viewer about whatever you’re selling. When it’s over, it’s over.
Of course, an advertiser will run commercials more than once, so viewers may be able to see your spot several times. However, the number of times it runs is out of your control. So you shouldn’t rely on repetition to get your message across. It should be clear and complete even if seen just once.
The 30-Second TV Commercial Formula
There are many ways to structure a TV commercial, but for our purposes, let’s stick to the standard “voice over” spot. This means that an announcer reads about 30 seconds of copy accompanied by synchronized video. (Technically, a 30-second commercial is 28.5 seconds. You lose about one and a half seconds to fade the video up at the beginning and down at the end.)
So you will write a script consisting of two elements: the audio (announcer’s voice over) and the video.
If there is anything like a formula for writing a local 30-second TV script, it’s this:
1. Say it.
2. Explain it.
3. Repeat it.
With only 30 seconds to work with, you don’t have much time to build a mood or be clever. You must get to the point with the first sentence. Come right out and say what the spot is going to be about.
“Save 50 percent on all living room furniture at Finley’s Furniture!”
“Sun Bank offers you the lowest rate home equity loans in town.”
“Buy your dream car at Nolte Chevrolet for just one dollar down!”
The lead sentence in a commercial is like the headline in a print ad. It must get the viewer’s attention, select the appropriate audience for the message, and make the viewer want to know more.
Along with the voice over talent speaking this lead sentence, you will need to show a visual to go along with it. If the commercial is about saving 50 percent at Finley’s Furniture, you could show an attractive set of furniture with the words “Save 50%” on the screen.
Words on a TV screen are generally called “chyron” or “CG” for character generator. So when you write the announcer’s first sentence in the audio column, you will also write instructions for the video and CG in the Video column.
After you SAY IT, you need to EXPLAIN IT. If your lead sentence is successful, you now have the attention of the viewer and must spend a few seconds sharing additional details.
If your lead sentence is “Save 50 percent on all living room furniture at Finley’s Furniture,” you could show various brand name pieces of furniture with audio that names each one.
Or to keep it simple, the audio may be nothing more than “Save 50% off traditional furniture. Save 50% off modern furniture. Save 50% off sectionals, tables, and lamps.” And so on.
Finally, after you SAY IT and EXPLAIN IT, you should REPEAT IT. This sounds pretty simple, but a lot of writers forget this.
Remember that your audience is not necessarily a captive one. Attention spans are very, very short.
With remote controls and hundreds of channels to choose from, you can also expect many viewers to come into your spot late. They may be interested in what you’re talking about, but if you don’t repeat your “headline,” you run the risk of loosing a sale.
Often you just need to repeat the idea in the lead sentence and, since you’re probably urging people to show up at a store at a particular time, give the location and time. Like this: “Save 50 percent on every piece of living room furniture in the store. This weekend only at Finley’s Furniture. 123 Main Street in downtown Groveport.”
On the screen, you could show “Save 50%” plus the date and address, along with a picture of the outside of the store.
Quick Tip For Writing Local TV Commercials
Okay, I know a commercial like this isn’t very sophisticated. It doesn’t take a genius to write one.
That’s why the hardest part is resisting the urge to be creative. You have a job to do, usually to drive buyers to a store location. And more often than not, the more creative you try to be, the more likely your commercial will fail.
What you have to learn is how to build the words, images, and CG so they deliver a clear, complete message in just 30 seconds. So here’s my tip: Set up your DVR or video recorder to capture a few dozen local TV spots and national TV spots. Then watch them carefully and transcribe the audio and video images.
Remember you only get one chance to make a first impression. Have a professional produce your spot with the right music and a professional voice over talent.