What Is the Most Effective Length for a TV Commercial?
The most effective length for TV commercials has been hotly debated by advertisers for decades.
In today’s changing TV landscape, the question remains as relevant as ever. How long should a commercial be in order to capture a viewer’s attention and sell your product, all without overstaying your welcome?
We’ll cover that hot topic along with a few other nice-to-knows that will assist you in making your TV commercial the right length for an audience in 2023 and beyond. Use the links below to jump to the section you want, or read from the top!
How long is the average TV advertisement?
Today, 15 seconds is the standard length for a TV commercial.
However, online streaming platforms have enabled advertisers to experiment with a variety of commercial lengths. For example, online video ads can range from less than 1-second to much, much longer.
Most North American broadcasters now allow advertisers to choose between producing 15, 30, or 60-second commercials.
While advertisers and media strategists are always experimenting in the TV ad space to ensure that commercial lengths remain profitable according to the spend necessary to produce and broadcast them, network TV still adheres to the mold of traditional time blocks.
Yet, with the decline of traditional TV viewing habits and the rise of on-demand viewing, as well as considerably more media options fighting for a consumer’s attention, what is the most effective length for a TV commercial?
What makes for a good TV commercial length?
The best TV commercial length really depends on the message you’re trying to convey to your audience.
In some cases, more concise ads are exactly what you need to hook your viewers and convince them of your value proposition from the outset.
On the other hand, some commercials need a slow-burning, established plot to do the trick. Many holiday TV commercials deliver on this style.
No matter the length, the important part is that you take just the right amount of time needed to tell your brand story—no more, no less.
30 Seconds is the Ideal TV Commercial Length
Studies completed by the World Advertising Research Center have shown that 30-second spots are ideal in order to effectively tap into all three components of a good brand-building television commercial. It’s enough time to make an emotional and intellectual connection but not so much time that you lose the interest of the viewer.
30 seconds is the right amount of time to make a television commercial that’s creative, memorable, and engaging enough to entice the viewer to learn more—which is to say, to conduct research online, to pick up the phone, or to drive to the store and purchase the product or service.
With that said, the appeal of producing and airing commercials that are longer or shorter than 30 seconds is justified. “Commercials longer than 30 seconds are intended to attract attention by giving marketers more time to tell stories,” writes The New York Times. “Those shorter than 30-seconds are meant to have surprise value: they are usually over before commercial-haters can zap or zip past them.”
As we said above, though, choose the length that makes sense for your product, intended message, and budget.
Examples of 15, 30, and 60-Second TV Ads
Let’s take a look at different TV commercial lengths in order to determine which runtime works best for particular styles of advertisement.
Example of an Effective 15-second Commercial:
Pepsi’s cheeky take on their product is so clever and self-referential, it doesn’t need much of an explanation.
This 15-second Skittles ad delivers the familiar image of the “Skittles rainbow” and pairs it with the unexpected—a Cougar claw! Even more genius is the use of the same Storyboard to create a 30-second ad spot from the same commercial!
Example of an Effective 30-Second Commercial:
Progressive Insurance capitalizes on the concept of reverse psychology in this one. Having Flo watch one of her colleagues use a reverse psychology tactic on a potential customer, she somehow wins her over…
Example of an Effective 60-second Commercial:
Corporate communication platform Slack showcases how their tool can help your workplace be more productive.
The 60-second format works best here since it allows the audience to follow along the journey and storylines of the characters to better sell you on the efficiency of their product. Plus, the velvety voice over at the end wraps up the adventure perfectly.
How Much Do 30-Second Commercials Cost?
The average cost to air a 30-second commercial on local TV can be as inexpensive as $5-$10 per 1,000 views. Alternatively, for national TV, which has a much more extensive reach, the average cost to air your 30-second commercial climbs to about $115,000.
The cost of purchasing 30 seconds of airtime to broadcast your commercial can vary tremendously based on the programming that your commercial is going to be sandwiched between.
It wouldn’t surprise you to hear that commercials during the Super Bowl cost millions more than during Days of Our Lives, but even a commercial airing during This Is Us costs more than a commercial airing during Modern Family. When it airs affects the cost just as much as the length, but of course, no matter when it airs, the longer commercial will tend to cost more.
Commercial Length and Brand Recall
Another measure of successful advertising is brand recall.
Studies have shown that if the advertisement is able to engage all three memory banks in the minds of its target audience, the ad will translate better to brand awareness and the bottom line.
In the book The Elements of Episodic Memory by the so-called ‘grandfather of modern memory research’ Endel Tulving, the Canadian experimental psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, defines the three memory systems.
When recalling the television commercial later, it will:
- Automatically be coupled with the branding imagery, making it easier to remember whatever struck us most about the commercial.
- Most importantly, we’ll recall the company the commercial belongs to.
This applies to everyone no matter which part of the memory was triggered most or their mood at the time.
Can a single 15-second commercial create brand recall?
In most contexts, the short answer is no.
Depending on the word count of your script, the length of the commercial will affect the speed of the voice over. If it’s too fast, it may affect the listeners’ ability to recall the message.
A series of three 15-second scripts can be an effective approach if each commercial taps into each one of the memory banks, but if the reason you’re thinking about producing a 15-second spot is due to low budget concerns, then three 15-second commercials just isn’t a viable option. It’s highly possible that a 15-second commercial ends up being precisely half as effective at producing brand recall as a 30-second ad.
However, it is worth noting that some brands have opted for an approach that counters our previous argument. One year at the Super Bowl, Master Lock ran what they called “the world’s first 1-second commercial.”
The rapid-fire ad displayed a close-up of a Master Lock lock being pierced by a bullet. Media strategy consultant Gene DeWitt noted that “shorter spots are perfect for products like Master Lock ‘that already have very, very high brand recognition that don’t have to explain what they are or what they do.’”
But perhaps that doesn’t describe your brand and you’re thinking 60 seconds is ideal. Consider it carefully.
To the average viewer, 60-second commercials feel long and drawn out. Even if, theoretically, each memory system is triggered by the commercial, the effectiveness is lost at about the 45-second mark. That’s when most people simply tune out, resulting in poor brand recall later.
The Importance of a TV Commercial’s Broadcast Frequency
Some advertisers may opt to run shorter ads at a higher frequency, especially during Sweeps Week. This is a practice that often backfires.
In an article on Bizcommunity, Chris Brewer explains that content producers regularly focus on crafting ads that are both fun to watch and have something to say, since the “fear of consumer irritation is very, very real.”
This is not a direct result of the length of a TV commercial,” Brewer writes. “In fact, some 60- and 90-second commercials are so highly entertaining and informative that consumers stop fast-forwarding in order to watch them again. On the other hand, in my house anyway, there’s a huge groan when the same commercial is shown 10 times during an evening.”
Average Commercial Length Takeaways
- Although the “correct” length for a TV commercial is debatable, and the notion of the “average TV commercial length” is dwindling, the key takeaway is to ensure that whatever length you choose to use for your commercials, you give yourself enough time to properly convey the message you are trying to send out to your audience.
- As long as you are able to engage audiences and sell them on why your product is the product for them, the length of the spot can vary depending on your budget, needs, and ultimate outcome.
- Learn more about commercial lengths (like the 6-second ad) and let us know about your thoughts on the length of television commercials.
- Read up on the best practices for casting a commercial voice, and take a look through our library of sample scripts to get some inspiration for your TV commercial.
- Then, when you’re ready, sign up and hire a talented voice actor to perform the script read for your next TV commercial today.
This post was originally published January, 2018 by David Ciccarelli.