How to Make a TV Commercial: The Whole Process

Making TV ads can’t be much different to making any other type of promotional video that you’d just stick online, right? We go through the usual stages of development and then get stuck in with production. But, instead of just putting it on the web when it’s done, we send it off to TV land.

Wrong. Oh so wrong.

When you’re sat watching Corrie and an advert comes on, the likelihood is that you’ll watch it and take in at least some of the information — even if you’re not conscious of doing it. For that reason, advertisers have to be incredibly careful of the claims they make in an advert. Not to mention that the colours have to be graded a certain way for television and it has to go through various stages of approval…and, well, there’s A LOT to think about. It’s easy to get caught off guard.

Since our very first TV advert for Coral Windows back in the day, we’ve produced TV adverts for a wide variety of clients and have become well versed in the process. But each project brings its own unique set of challenges!

Let’s take a closer look at the process…
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Planning & Development

The basic principles of the production process are the generally same as any other video project. First, we meet with the client. Either they have a specific idea in mind that want you to visualise for them, or we put together something from scratch and wow them with our incredible tenacity and creativity… as any good video production company should.

More often than not, the client will also have a specific airing date in mind and may have already paid for that air time. In which case, there will be a strict deadline to contend with and, while there may be some flexibility with other video projects, the TV gods can’t wait.

In this case, it’s a good idea to work backwards. If the ad is airing on this date, then it needs to be sent off to TV land on this date. Which means that it has to go through clearing on this date, needs to be shot on this date, and the concept agreed with the client by this date.

A project of this size takes time and patience; if possible, a couple of weeks should be added to the schedule to allow some leeway.

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Pre-Production

Given this rock solid end date, it’s important to keep on top of every factor of pre-production. We aim to get a concept sent off to the client as early as possible and keep in constant contact throughout the process. The client is, of course, well within their rights to flag up anything they’re not happy with at any point during the production process. To minimise this risk, we try to hash out every little detail before we get to shooting. The earlier everyone involved has agreed on the direction of the advert, the more time we have to faff about with the mistakes and poor planning choices that we could potentially make later on!
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Working on the script

Once the overall arc of the advert has been settled on, it’s time for scripting. However, at this point, we also keep in mind that some foresight will be come in handy later one. We start looking at locations. We begin the hunt for our cast. And, if the ad involves motion graphics, we start to think about design. There’s no such thing as being too prepared; it gives you more time to bounce back if something doesn’t go to plan. A good script is nothing if you haven’t got the tools to shoot it!

Getting the script approved by the client

Once the script has been written, we send it off to the client and schedule a meeting if possible. A face-to-face discussion is far more beneficial than the odd email here and there. Video chatting — though slightly awkward and painful if you’ve got a bad connection — is also a great way to touch base.

The stage between concept and final script is generally when the advert changes the most. Always be prepared to ditch your idea and head back to the drawing board. We never class this as a setback; if anything, the advert is better for it. It’s better that these changes happen at this stage, rather than sometime after shooting.

Getting the script approved by the Clearcast

Once the client has approved the final script, it must then be sent off to Clearcast, who will read it through and decide it’s suitable for broadcasting. If we say there’s 50 % off, we have to be specific about which products the offer applies two. If we claim that the client is the number 1 window company in Yorkshire, we have to provide proof that you live up to that title.

This process can go back and forth, and it usually takes somewhere between 2 – 7 days to get a response from them. So, if we send the script out to them 3 times, that’s potentially 21 days added to our pre-production schedule.

It’s a waiting game and potentially the most uncomfortable part of the entire process. Not too dissimilar from the feeling of thinking you’ve been caught by a speed camera and waiting for a fine to come through the post!

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Filming

With the script approved, it’s time to shoot the thing! We’ve secured the location, kit and crew, sent out the call sheets, had our last minute panic attack over some little problem or other, and now we’re ready to go.

The filming stage is pretty much the same as any other video shoot. There are no special requirements and it’s often the shortest part of the whole process!

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Post-Production

Now we’re onto editing. This process can take a little longer than expected. The final advert needs to be spot on, so there’s often a lot of back and forth with the client. And let’s not forget the finicky little hoops we have to jump through to get the ad on TV.

Supers

For starters, there the supers — the small print that you often see at the bottom of ads. The words have to meet the required height and be on screen for a certain amount of time (the minimum amount being 0.2 seconds per word). Otherwise, they’re impossible to read and you may be accused of misleading viewers.

Action Safe Area & Title Safe Area

Any information and important action also has to be displayed within a certain frame on the screen, known as the action safe area and title safe area. If you live in the dark ages and still have a mildly square shaped TV, this set of precautions still survives because of you. We may shoot things in widescreen these days, but that doesn’t mean everyone has caught up!

Colour Grading

Then, there’s colour grading — which can make all the difference between something that looks like it’s been shot on a 2nd generation iPhone vs the new Star Wars movie. According to legal broadcasting standards, the blacks and whites in the commercial have to adhere to a certain legal limit. Anything above or below these legal limits will suffer from loss of detail. It isn’t always about making the thing look pretty; as with every step of this lengthy process, there are strict guidelines to adhere to.

Other Broadcasting Regulations

One last thing. For scheduling reasons, we’re also required to add a clock to the beginning of the advert that counts down from 30-seconds. During these 30-seconds, there must be three seconds of black screen before the advert starts, 12 frames of silence when the visual starts, and 12 frames of silence before the visual ends. This sounds a lot more complicated than it is; it’s actually one of the easiest parts of the whole process!

One final trip through Clearcast to make sure the script matches the final ad and then we’re on the home stretch!

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Delivering the Advert to the TV Channel

Finally — and I mean FINALLY — the advert is ready to go. Delivering it to the television channel is simpler than you might think. There are various online platforms, such as Adstream, which are designed to facilitate the airing of adverts. Once uploaded to the platform, we simply tick all the necessary boxes and it’s on its way!

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Television ads are all about tight schedules and deadlines, late nights and constant people chasing. It takes a lot of push and pull between us and the client, which is why developing a comfortable working relationship between the two is essential.

And, after all is said and done, there’s nothing more rewarding than basking in the end product!

Want to find out more about our TV commercial production services? Click here!

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