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The best length for TV commercials has been hotly debated among advertisers for decades.

Countless studies have been conducted and the outcome often rests on the laurels of economics rather than effective brand awareness.

When televisions first entered the average North American homes commercials followed the same guiding principles of radio, the main media source at the time.

As with radio, 60-second television commercials were the norm in the 1950s.

When media inflation hit in the 1970s advertisers were forced to cut their spots in half to 30-seconds. Soon after that the 15-second TV commercial emerged. Now, 15 seconds seems to have become a standard duration, or length for a TV commercial.

Most North American broadcasters now offer a selection to advertisers and they can choose to produce a 15, 30, or 60-second commercial.

But what is the most effective amount of time? 

What Makes for a Good TV Commercial Length?

One measure of successful advertising is consumer recall.

Studies have shown that if the advertisement is able to engage all three memory banks in the minds of its target audience then the ad will translate better to brand awareness and the bottom line.

Don’t Forget the 3 Memory Banks of the Human Mind

In his book The Elements of Episodic Memory by Endel Tulving, a Canadian experimental psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, the so-called “grandfather of modern memory research,” defines the three memory systems as:

1. Semantic: knowledge based memories, where we store facts, concepts and language.

2. Episodic: emotional based memories, where we store autobiographical memories.

3. Procedural or Somatic: action based memories, where we store learned behaviors, such as how to drive a car or play a guitar, as well as the physical sensations of bodily movement and our five senses.

For advertising purposes, a good commercial uses imagery that triggers fireworks in all three memory systems. Add in a familiar logo, jingle, and/or tagline to each spot that represents each memory system and you’ve got the makings of an effective television commercial.


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 and,
  • most importantly, the company the commercial belongs too.

This applies to everyone no matter which part of the memory was triggered most or their mood at the time.

Can You Cram all that into Single 15-Second Commercial?

Nope. Well, not unless you’re a marketing maverick with Houdini-like advertising skills.

Plus, 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 .15s 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 .15s just isn’t a viable option.

So, perhaps you’re thinking 60-seconds will be ideal then. Consider it carefully.

To the average viewer 60-second commercials feel long and drawn out. Even if, theoretically, each memory system should be 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.

Studies completed by the World Advertising Research Center have shown that 30-seconds 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 with 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, pick up the phone or drive to the store and purchase the product or service.

Isn’t that the point anyway?

So, should you save those single 15-second time slots for bumpers, liners, and sweepers?

If your goal is to connect with your consumers on television and see a return on your marketing investment, work with 30-second commercials.

It’s money better spent.



  1. By economic necessity, national TV probably gets it right much of the time, while web advertisers often far exceed 30 seconds. And given that their stuff intrudes just as you are about to read or watch something you really want, I wonder how long people linger before hitting skip?

  2. What if the client wants the editor to make a commercial just lasting 55 seconds instead of making it a full minute?


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