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The Advantages of Television Advertising Don't Come Without Challenges

Ever since the 1950s when televisions became a fixture in American households, the influence of TV as a medium for entertainment, news and advertising has not diminished, but instead has evolved with us. This makes it one of the most enduring traditional mediums. Most people still turn on their TVs for several hours each day, and in 2020, with a pandemic keeping everyone at home, TV has become even more popular. Viewers are turning to it both for news and for entertainment. With that in mind, there seems no better time to delve into the advantages of television advertising (along with some challenges), and see how your brand can capitalize on this unique medium.

The Reality of TV

According to the latest Nielsen Total Audience Report, in Q1 of 2020, adults 18+ spend over 4 hours a day watching live and time-shifted TV (plus over an hour streaming content on advanced TV platforms such as Netflix or Hulu). The amount of time spent watching television increases with age. Adults over 65 spend over 7 hours a day watching TV, and adults 50-64 spend almost 6 hours, though older adults dedicate significantly less time to streaming platforms.

Because so many people are working from home on an indefinite basis, TV watching trends have begun to shift, too. 33% of those surveyed by Nielsen say they watch TV or stream content during a break from work every day, and 29% will watch TV with sound while working every day. The percentage of people who are watching TV on the job also goes up when you ask them about their occasional indulgence in the activity.

What are people watching right now? Almost half (47%) of people surveyed by Nielsen said they turn on their TVs for the news, especially local news. Following news broadcasts, people like to watch comedy (40%), movies (36%), dramas (30%) and sports (24%). Daytime TV has also seen a surge in viewership since the coronavirus pandemic.

All told, every week, live and time-shifted TV reaches 85% of the US population 18 years and older. This indicates a great opportunity for advertisers. TV ads can help you reach larger audiences in a targeted fashion, utilizing a medium that consumers are both familiar with and turn to for news, information and entertainment. It also has the advantage of sophistication ahead of any other medium, combining both visual and auditory stimulation. The combination of pictures and words is not only more stimulating for viewers, but it gives a more realistic view of a product than a single static photograph or an all-audio radio ad.

Before you jump in and start filming your television commercial though, make sure you understand both the advantages and limitations of TV ads.

The Advantages of Television Advertising

Look at That Reach

Watching TV is one of the most popular leisure activities in the US. We watch it on the couch, in bed, while we’re exercising, while we’re doing chores, while we eat, while we wait at the doctor's office - TV is ubiquitous in our society. The size of your audience that can be reached with a TV ad seems fairly obvious, but let’s add some numbers to the argument.

Per GfK TVB’s 2020 Media Comparisons Study, TV has the highest reach of any ad supported platform across all demographics. Daily, TV reaches 80% of those surveyed, with broadcast TV reaching 78% all on its own and cable TV reaching 53%. Streaming TV followed behind cable, reaching 36% of those surveyed.

A Captive Audience

TV is clearly heavily entrenched in the daily lives of Americans. It’s also important to note that when they watch it, it’s not just a fleeting interaction. According to GfK TVB, people spend 5 hours and 17 minutes every day watching TV: 3 hours, 28 minutes of that spent with broadcast and 1 hour, 49 minutes spent with cable on average. This means that in a single session, your TV ad can potentially reach a consumer several times, and as we’ll discuss later, ad frequency is important to the success of a TV advertising campaign.

Just because people are watching TV does not mean that’s the only thing they’re doing. In fact, 45% of people told Nielsen that they always or very often use another device while watching TV. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a captive audience, though. Nielsen also reports that 71% use their device to look up something related to the TV content they’re watching, 41% said they text, email or message someone about the content, 35% said they shop for a product or service being advertised and 28% write or read social media posts about the content they’re viewing.

Hitting Targets

You may not think of television as being capable of targeting consumers with any degree of accuracy, but media buyers have been working with TV for a long time, and they know how to get your ads in front of the right people. With TV, you have a few options.

Broadcast TV (your local channels that come over the air) give you the opportunity to reach a broad audience in your area and raise brand awareness with the general public. Cable TV includes all of the channels you pay for such as HGTV, MTV, OWN, AMC, etc. These channels have narrower reach, but they allow you to target your audience based on their interests (e.g., gardening, music, old movies, wild game hunting, Oprah Winfrey). You can also buy ad spots during shows your demographic target is most likely to watch.

Trust in TV Advertising

Promotional material on television is the most influential because consumers trust it above other mediums, the biggest reason for that being that they trust the news and information that TV ads air alongside. According to TVB’s 2020 American Conversation Study, 81% of people trust local broadcast TV compared to only 31% who trust social media. Cable TV landed somewhere in the middle at 59%.

This trustworthiness leads to one of the biggest advantages of television advertising; its influence in the buyers’ journey. According to TVB, TV is most likely to influence the purchase decisions of online shoppers, with local TV driving 34% more decisions compared to social media and almost 3 times that of search.

A Few Limitations

The advantages of television advertising spell out a very compelling argument in favor of TV ads, but we would be remiss not to mention a few obstacles that may lay in your path.


Television advertising is not a cheap endeavor. The price will vary depending on the nature of your ad, the length and the market you’re in, but on the low end, a typical commercial costs several thousand dollars. Two big items take the biggest chunk of change out of your budget.

Production costs: You either need to hire an ad agency with experience filming commercials or source the right people (script writer, actors, film crew, etc.) directly. You’ll have to pay for the time it takes to plan, rehearse, film and edit your commercial, too. It’s a bad idea to cut corners during production, or you run the risk of having an ad that does the opposite of catching people’s attention and attracting them to your business.

Ad spots: Ad buying is another area that can cost a lot of money, especially if you don’t know your way around the media industry. Normally, you won’t just buy a single ad spot but a package. If you want your ads to play during primetime, that’ll cost more. If you want them to play during a higher-viewed show such as a sporting event, that’ll also cost more. We recommend engaging a media buying agency to assist you in making the right purchases so your commercial isn’t wasted on the wrong audience.

Ad Frequency

Much like other advertising, you can’t just air your commercial once and then: bam, success! They need to be seen repeatedly to boost brand recall and improve credibility in your products or services. That’s why campaigns usually have prescribed lengths: a month, six weeks, three months or even six months. You need to make sure your budget can handle a multi-month campaign without breaking the bank.

Because you’re buying ad spots months in advance for your commercial, you also need to be aware that it’ll be difficult to pivot or make changes quickly, so you should thoroughly review your ad before it airs. You’d hate to have an ad with a glaring faux pas running for three months if you don’t have to.

The Advantages of The Ward Group

To fully reap the advantages of television advertising, working with experienced media buyers gives you the best guarantee. Since our founding in 1985, video has been one of The Ward Group’s core service offerings. In the beginning, we only offered linear TV buying options, but with the advent of the Internet and expansion in the ways we watch content, we’ve steadily added new video channels to our repertoire, including all advanced TV options as well as online video.

Through careful planning and expert negotiating, our media stewards deliver a strategy that accounts for your audience, your brand and your budget. Don’t let potential obstacles dissuade you from utilizing this powerful advertising medium. Contact us today to get started!

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