How to make a TV ad that gets attention and drives sales

Advertising on television remains an effective way to generate awareness and drive sales for pretty much any product or service. It’s also one of the most expensive lines in a marketing budget—particularly given that TV ads are usually only 30 seconds long. That brevity should inform every aspect of your decision making when it comes to producing a TV advertisement. No matter how amazing your product, its ad needs to be immediately attention-grabbing, laser-focused in its messaging, and engaging enough that viewers are compelled to learn more.

Grab attention in three seconds

Online, many movie trailers now kick off with their own extremely truncated teaser—a few seconds of highlights from the couple of minutes of highlights you’re about to watch. That’s by design, of course: It’s meant to instantly hook viewers and implicitly convince them that the rest of the video will be worth their time. This tactic applies equally to TV ads.

With so many demands on modern media consumers’ attention, advertisements must capture eyeballs within literal seconds. No matter the platform, incentives to look away are numerous; the reason(s) enticing viewers to stay must be even greater. So make sure that your commercial begins with a bang: a whiz-bang image, provocative narration, a pressing question for which you have an answer. Whatever it takes to intrigue your audience, and encourage them to find out more.

Tell a compelling story

Even if you manage to initially pull in viewers, it’s not enough that they mindlessly watch your advertisement. For it to be effective, viewers must be engaged by it. How do you engage them? By telling a story. And what does a compelling story do? It focuses on the specific to speak to a universal truth—while invoking an emotional response. A successful ad doesn’t just tell customers what your product is; in 30 seconds, it concisely and memorably shows how it will make their lives better.

Speak to a specific audience

Very few products or services are meant for everyone. Naturally, your advertising efforts should be aimed at—and reflect the preferences of—those people whom you expect to be your customers. So stick to a single message while crafting a story around the hopes and dreams of your target demographic. And make sure your visual style matches that messaging, too.

Build your brand while driving sales

The expense of television advertising means it’s rarely advisable to produce a spot solely for the purpose of branding. Of course, its visuals and messaging should be in line with the image of your brand that you want to project, but the ad must also generate interest in a product or service, and then lead to actual sales.

Thus, wrapped up in your ad’s “compelling story” should be an equally compelling call to action. Nowadays, that increasingly means tying that ad to a concurrent web or social-media campaign—which provides customers with more information and a seamless ability to buy.

Link it to online

A 2015 Google study of nearly 100 different television campaigns found that each brand or product being advertised saw an increase in search traffic immediately after its TV ad was aired. That shouldn’t be surprising. Television viewers are also smartphone and computer users; contemporary consumers expect to be communicated to across platforms.

So make a point of doing exactly that. Tying your ad to a search term can be a very effective way of further engaging customers who are still in the discovery mindset vis-à-vis your brand or product. (Just make sure that, before you do it, you have your SEO ducks in a row.) Connecting with a social-media campaign—specific to your brand’s accounts, or a hashtag of your creation—can likewise boost discovery and engagement, and engender a critical mass of hype that simply isn’t possible via television alone.