Advertising on Television: Everything You Need to Know About the TV Medium

Jun 16, 2023
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Wondering if advertising on television is the right fit for your brand? Explore the advantages and disadvantages and learn how to make effective TV ads.

Find out where and how to build a successful TV ad campaign

Advertising on television is one of the most popular ways to spread a brand’s message, but don’t let its ubiquity fool you: There are more ways to reach households on the home’s central screen now than ever before. Finding the right fit, whether via big-budget campaigns splashed across linear TV schedules or carefully crafted ads purpose-built to drive conversion on CTV, could make a massive difference to your success with TV commercials.

Here’s everything you need to know about advertising on television to get started, and where to learn even more.

Big Advantages of Advertising on Television

Adding TV to your media mix is a critical step for any brand that wants access to a broad, deep, and engaged audience pool. Building persuasive TV commercials has become something of an art form since the first one aired during a baseball game in 1941, and the medium has become far more potent and varied since then — especially with connected TV advertising spend projected to reach $40.9 billion by 2027.

Here are three major advantages TV commercials have over other types of advertising:

  • Wider reach: The national audience for television is huge, and it remains the primary mode of entertainment for a large majority of adults in the U.S. Nearly half of U.S. households have linear TV subscriptions, while more than nine in 10 of them are reachable via connected TV advertising.

  • Dialed-in demographics: Traditional demographic details for linear TV networks give advertisers a good idea of who their message may reach. Over-the-top (OTT) advertising goes a step further with performance marketing tools and viewer insight that allows hyper-specific targeting, even down to viewers’ ZIP codes.

  • Better brand awareness: Our research indicates that 46% of viewers say TV ads are the most memorable type of advertising they encounter — and they have a “halo effect” that uplifts other forms of advertising, making them a vital part of your overall media mix.

These benefits and more make advertising on television one of the best approaches for any brand looking to expand its audience. If you’d like to learn more about what makes connected TV advertising a particularly potent tool, download our free guide, The CTV Advertising Playbook.

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Find even more reasons to make TV commercials part of your marketing strategy in our full article, "5 Advantages of Advertising on Television."

The Basics of Cable TV Advertising

While cable TV advertising has traditionally been one of the most potent means of sharing your brand, challengers in the CTV space are presenting new and potentially more cost-effective options. Still, crafting and placing the right cable TV commercials could be a worthwhile investment for your brand.

Cable TV ads are generally broken down into two categories:

  • Spot advertisements, which are typically cheaper and region-specific, and air on any channel the cable provider offers.

  • Network advertisements, which are more expensive but can target customers around the country, and are negotiated with individual channels.

Cable TV advertising is relatively inexpensive compared to broadcast advertising — compare the cost of a Sunday Night Football ad which could easily eclipse $800,000 to cable spots that can be as cheap as $5 to $500. But we’ll get into more specifics on the cost of advertising on television, however you choose to do it, in a moment.

Learn more in our full guide, “Cable TV Advertising: Benefits, Costs, Comparisons, and More.

The Cost of TV Advertising

Given the increasing prominence of OTT and connected TV advertising, marketers looking into advertising on television should be well-acquainted with their costs compared to traditional linear TV. Here’s what you need to know to make the price of placing TV commercials a well-justified expense for your brand.

Linear TV’s greatest strength is its massive reach, with an unparalleled capacity to deliver ads to audiences around the US across a range of demographics. OTT and CTV’s greatest strength is their power to target ads in a much more precise and cost-effective manner. OTT and CTV ads can also be used to extend the reach of linear TV campaigns, as well as search and social advertising.

Advertisers laid out nearly $67 billion on TV advertising in 2022, with the median price for AdAge-tracked shows coming in just north of $80,000. In 2019, cable TV upfront advertising came to an average cost per mille (CPM) of $19.45, while network TV upfront advertising that year had a CPM of $36. Meanwhile, OTT and CTV advertising spending reached just under $27 billion in 2022, with the average CPM for CTV ranging from $35 to $65.

Get a broader look at potential expenses in our article, “TV Advertising Cost: Unpacking Linear, CTV, and OTT Pricing.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Local TV Advertising

While the term “TV commercials” often brings to mind the sort of splashy, expensive advertisements you might see during major sporting events, focusing your efforts on local TV may yield more cost-effective results for your brand. Here are some of the pros and cons of advertising on television locally:

Pros of Local TV Advertising

  • Wide local reach: Depending on your chosen area, local linear TV ads may still provide a huge number of potential exposures. For instance, advertising in San Francisco will be more expensive than other regions, but it will still put your ad in front of millions while costing less than a national ad.
  • More precise targeting: Demographic data tied to local station viewership will make it easier to find more relevant audiences for your brand, rather than the broad metrics available at the national linear level.
  • Affordability: Running a 30-second ad on a national network could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, whereas a medium-sized local market may have a CPM of $15 to $25.

Cons of Local TV Advertising

  • Lack of flexibility: The terms of a TV advertising campaign are typically set as soon as it begins, with little room for optimization or course correction. If any major changes are required mid-campaign, your brand may be in for a major headache.

  • Unclear attribution: It can be difficult to track a customer from a local TV ad to purchase, which makes measuring campaign success more of a challenge than in some other mediums.

  • Suboptimal metrics: While it’s easier to find definitive performance metrics for local TV than on national TV, they are still not as detailed or instantaneous as in CTV and OTT video.

Find more benefits, drawbacks, and other key information to consider in “Local TV Advertising: The Complete Guide.

How to Compare TV and Radio Advertising

The first radio advertisement aired more than a century ago for real estate development in New York City. Since then, radio has stood as a stalwart of advertising in the US, persisting even after the emergence of television as Americans continued to tune in during commutes, road trips, and more. Now evolving consumer behaviors mean the boundaries behind those formerly well-defined domains are blurrier than ever before.

While TV ads can capture audiences with attention-grabbing effects and instantly recognizable celebrities, radio ads only have listeners’ senses of hearing to target. That said, the digital age means consumers are likely to experience either type of ad while multitasking on their phones or other personal devices. Keeping ads simple yet creative is one way to help cut through the noise, whether audio or visual.

Building radio into your media mix is an important avenue for diversification, especially since the common run-of-schedule method of ad placements means you can save costs at the expense of controlling exactly when your ad will play. Production costs are an even greater point of differentiation, with radio advertisements generally being much cheaper and faster to create than TV ads of similar quality.

Complete your research with our guide, “TV vs. Radio Advertising: A Comparison for the Digital Age.”

The Growing Role of Addressable TV

Rather than standing as its own means of watching television like linear TV or CTV, addressable TV is a powerful advertising methodology that can be used in conjunction with OTT viewing. It’s based on the principle that not everyone watching the same show will have the same interests, and it uses targeting capabilities and viewer data that is inaccessible on linear TV to serve better-tailored advertisements.

But how do you know if addressable TV campaigns are successful? Here are three key performance indicators to keep in mind:

  • Reach and frequency: Reaching a higher number of unique viewers is one of the most fundamental goals for ad campaigns — however, the next point is what makes it truly valuable.

  • Conversion rate: The percentage of viewers who, having seen the ad, take the desired action (making a purchase, signing up for a free trial, and so on) within a particular period.

  • Return on ad spend (ROAS): By dividing the revenue generated from the ad campaign by the total ad spend, you can determine how much of an impact your TV commercials made on your bottom line.

Learn more about how to make the most of this ad methodology in our primer, “What Is Addressable TV?”

How TV Measurement Works

The most valuable spots for advertising on television typically go alongside the most popular programs, since they stand the best chance of getting a brand’s message in front of the most people possible. But how do we know which TV programs are the most popular? That’s where TV measurement comes in.

One of the pioneers in the field of TV measurement was Nielsen, which initially sent viewer diaries and special screen-capturing devices called Audimeters to a representative sample of U.S. households. While Nielsen’s methods have evolved to keep up with the times, the company has recently suffered some blows to its reputation as the last word in linear TV measurement.

One of the most promising modern methods of TV measurement is automatic content recognition (ACR), which tracks what viewers are watching, then transmits that data to TV and set-top box manufacturers. When implemented with consumer privacy in mind, ACR can be an unparalleled measurement source of data for advertisers and broadcasters alike.

Get the full introduction in “TV Measurement: Past, Present, and Future.

Power Up Your TV Advertising Plans

It’s clear that connected TV advertising is an unmatched destination for brands that want to reach wider audiences and the most engaged viewers possible. But not all means of CTV advertising are equally effective.

By partnering with tvScientific, you’ll unlock access to the only CTV platform that was purpose-built for performance marketers. Our outcome-based CTV advertising solution will help you increase reach, lift, and ROAS by targeting the right audience at the right time, then hone the value of your campaigns with best-in-class analytics that measure the true performance of your ads. Request a demo today to see what we can do for your brand.