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Tips for a small business to create a better TV commercial

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John Ondo - Columbus Filmmaker

John Ondo, Media Consultant

I’ve been back in my small hometown for a couple weeks helping my parents. My hometown is like so many in our country. A former industrial giant, now dealing with heavy unemployment and many small businesses trying to get a foothold on the corporate giants that have moved in. I’ve been watching the commercials on the local cable and broadcast stations here and noticing that the small market commercial quality is still lacking. In 2014 there is no reason for this. The best technology is available even in the smallest market, so I wanted to give a quick free consult to small businesses on how to improve the quality of your local TV commercials and get more bang for your buck.

Free is too expensive

In my book, How to Avoid a Media Meltdown, I discuss the concept that getting something for free is too expensive.  Often when a business owner signs a contract for buy for local TV airtime the TV station or Cable outlet claims they will “give you” the production for free or for “small cost”. Think for a moment if Budweiser or Pepsi used the same concept for their Super Bowl production. What if they spent a millions of dollars for a thirty second slot and throw in a commercial produced for free or for less than a thousand dollars? It would have no impact. The same applies with your five thousand dollar local TV ad purchase. The best time slot won’t attract new customers if your commercial production doesn’t communicate to new customers.

Selling the experience

Life is about experiences. You’re not selling your business on the commercial, you’re selling how the customer will feel after they experience your business.  So I always suggest the focus on your script be like this: “Look how good you will look in this new car or dress” or “Your family will have a great experience dining in our restaurant.” I watched a local commercial yesterday where a restaurant was showing how they use hand dipped batter for fish, and they cut to a shot of the uncooked food being dipped in the batter. Gross! I don’t care how it looks in the kitchen, I want to see how the food looks when I experience it. These are common  mistakes in local TV commercials. They happen because TV/Cable stations do not have time or money to invest in your commercial. They use cookie cutter templates, and worse yet, sales personnel with no writing experience to create your commercial. Think of it like the person who takes your information in the emergency room performing your surgery.

Invest in Production

Instead of purchasing five thousand dollars of airtime for an ad run for two weeks with free production. Ask your account executive would they give you more air time if they didn’t have to produce the commercial. Sometimes this may give you a little bump. If they don’t give you more airtime that just revealed how little value they had for your spot production.

You’re not selling your business on the commercial, your selling how the customer will feel after they experience your business.

Drop the ad buy to four-thousand and take the thousand and put it toward a nicely produced commercial that you can use for six months to a year. My recommendation is you need to spend at minimum two-thousand dollars for a well produced thirty-second spot that should have a twelve month shelf life or more. That means your cost for the spot is only one hundred seventy dollars a month if you run that one spot all year. If you need to update the spot for seasonal specials, you create what is called a “doughnut”. Where the front and back of the spot are the same and you just inexpensively update the middle with graphics and an updated voice over.

On Camera or Voice Talent

Unless you have a background in theater or radio, business owners should not use their voice on the spot. It creates an instant unprofessional feel to your business brand.  Professional voices are available for as little as $100 and will make your commercial compete with the big guys in your town. If you want to put someone on camera, using a well known and liked local sport or celebrity to endorse your business is always a plus.

Who should I use to produce the commercial?

There are many great local home spun production companies near you who would love to help you make a great commercial. When you shop your commercial project around, ask to see a demo reel of spots produced by the company in the budget range you have. You may be surprised to find you’ll be working with another small business trying to compete against the big agencies and can give you a great look at a reasonable price. Remember this is your image to the public and you can’t put a price tag on that.

The Take Away

In 2014 there are no technical limitations to creating a classy commercial for a small town local businesses. Do not accept a unprofessional TV commercial because you live in a small town or don’t think have the budget for a nice commercial. With a little investment and attention to detail you can make a big splash.

I cover topics like these along with other media strategies for small business in my book “How to Avoid a Media Meltdown” available at I also consult many small businesses on their media, which you can find out more at

How to Avoid a Media Meltdown - OndoJohn Ondo is an award winning Producer/Director, Media Consultant & Author. His production company, Ondo Media, creates the finest in video & film productions as well as social media and web strategies. Based in Columbus, Ohio, John Ondo can be followed on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and our Ondo Media Vimeo site. You can also get his book “How To Avoid A Media Meltdown” at Amazon.Com or at the Ondo Media Bookstore.

John also serves as a board member and supporter of the Central Ohio Chapter of the March of Dimes.





  1. 3 Comments

    • Tom Hendrixson says:

      Interesting points John, but I guess I have a little different perspective. First, spending $1000 to have a commercial produced does not guarantee a top notch commercial. If you did it of course it would be first rate, but I’ve seen a lot of commercials produced by an agency that….well for want of a better word….sucked! A car guy had a spot written and produced by an agency out of Toledo where he was dressed like a “Duck Dynasty” guy and I won’t bother you with the knuckle dragging dialog, but it was pretty bad. Plus, as you sort of advised, it ran for over a month! I can’t even image them running it for a year. The villagers would have been at their door with torches and pitchforks. Speaking of Super Bowl, I’ve seen some pretty bad Super Bowl commercials that no doubt cost the sponsor hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe free would have worked better for them. When it comes to local production and local clients, most of the owners we work with are nice and they want to do the commercials, but they don’t want to spend hours and hours on production. They want to get back to taking care of their business. Say they spend $1000 on a commercial. That $1000 would have bought them at least three 30 second commercials on our 6:00 News. That means about 90,000 people will see their ad. That may not be too many people in Columbus, but it is HUGE here in Lima. On the other hand if they own a clothing store and sell sweaters say for $40 with about $20 in profit ( also minus overhead) they would have to sell well over 50 sweaters just to come close to breaking even. A free commercial allows business owner to change their spot monthly if they want to and all their advertising dollars go to branding their business. A business owner that does his or her own commercials may not be a professional, but they get great feed back from friends, neighbors, even people on the street, “Hey, I saw you on TV” which helps confirm the fact that their message is being seen. If a business has the money to hire an agency to produce their commercials and to buy good schedules it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try, but please don’t lump every “free” commercial as “one notch above high school audio/video class” quality.

      • John Ondo says:

        Good points Tom, and I agree that not every free commercial is bad, because I have produced a few that were good too. However my main point is business owners who want to have higher quality spots that really stand out against the competition can have that quality in today’s media world, and it won’t break the bank and I do think there is a better ROI when your quality of commercial matches the quality of your product.

    • Tiffany Locke says:

      Your advice to invest in a nicely produced commercial so that you can use it for six months to a year. I also like that you recommend finding a local production company. When choosing a production company, you’d probably want to research the different options online and then set up an appointment with the ones that meet your approval so that you can ask questions and talk about the type of commercial you want for your business to ensure that they will listen and work with you.

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