Nearly every church or ministry uses commercial advertising to announce events, promote a program, sell books, teaching tapes, and more. But few really understand the most important principles of using commercial spots effectively. In the secular world, commercials are big business. I am a partner in a secular commercial production company called “Thomas/Winter/Cooke” based in Santa Monica, California, and we’ve produced national spots and advertising campaigns for companies like Verizon, Home Depot, Las Vegas hotels, major pharmaceutical companies, and more. In that world, a typical commercial can cost $100,000 per shooting day, use as many as 60 people on the crew, and usually shoots on 35mm film. In addition, the media buys on network television are expensive, as last year’s Super Bowl proved, selling 30 second slots at $2.2 million each.
With that much money at stake, commercial advertisers in the secular world have to understand the techniques and principles that make for effective advertising. And in the Christian media world, we can learn from those same techniques, and even though our budgets aren’t nearly as big, the principles – and results – can be the same.
In Christian media, there are generally four types of commercials;
1. Image Advertising- This is a commercial that doesn’t directly sell a product or service, but places an “image” in the mind of the viewer. It’s critical for long term success, and can be seen in successful campaigns like “Just Do It” for Nike. Don’t think because it doesn’t directly sell, it’s isn’t effective. On the contrary, it’s the most important aspect of commercial advertising, because it builds brand awareness over the long term.
2. Direct Response Advertising- This is a commercial that asks the viewer to act now; to get up off the chair, go to the phone, and order the product. Direct response started small with strange products like “Ginsu Knives,” or “Popiel’s Pocket Fisherman,” but DR has come of age. Professional Direct Response writers like Colleen Szot of Minneapolis (www.wonderfulwriter.com) are highly creative and in great demand for a host of products and companies. Respected organizations like Kodak, Pennzoil, Home Depot, and others are now using direct response with great success. In the church and ministry world, DR is often the most used type of advertising.
3. Evangelism- This type of spot attempts to “sell”, but it doesn’t sell a product. It’s purpose is to make people stop and think, and hopefully, make a decision for Christ. There have been a wide variety of these spots- some good, and others awkward and unbelievable, and it’s probably been used most effectively by the Mormon Church. They have invested millions in their ongoing campaigns on television and have had excellent results in expanding church membership.
4. Public Service- These spots are usually produced and broadcast for free, and focus attention on some public need; smoking, cancer, heart disease, homelessness, AIDS, etc. Often sponsored by the government or public charities, advertising agencies usually do this work on a “pro bono” (free) basis. Innovative public service spots often win awards because the subject matter can encourage very creative approaches. One of the most powerful public service spots in recent memory was directed by British director Tony Kaye (American History X) and featured a heroin user just simply talking to the camera about how heroin wasn’t really a problem for him, and he could quit any time he wanted. But Kaye visually contrasted what the person was saying with shots of his filthy apartment, his soiled mattress, the needle marks on his arm, his emaciated condition, and the fact that he did the entire interview standing in dirty, saggy, underwear. The visual approach said far more than his feeble dialogue, and the spot won numerous awards as a powerful indictment against drug abuse.
The Power of Commercials
Madison Avenue advertising agencies spend billions each year on producing and broadcasting spots, and the fact is, in our society, some commercials have been elevated to the status of cultural icons. Why? Five important reasons:
1. The Power of Focus- Commercials focus millions of people’s attention for 30 to 60 seconds. With arresting visuals, powerful music, and creative style, they can make a strong impression by hitting hard and making an impact. That’s why advertisers are willing to pay $2.2 million per 30 second spot for the Super Bowl – because that 30 seconds of focus can dramatically change behavior.
2. Flexibility- You can place them in a greater variety of time slots. 30 minute programs are harder to place, but spots can be dropped anywhere. Experiment for maximum effect with your spots, and try to reach different audiences at different time periods.
3. Expense- Spots are much less expensive than producing and broadcasting full length programs. So before you try a 30 minute “infomercial” style program, experiment with a 30 or 60 second spot first.
4. High Production Value- The shorter length allows for concentrated creativity and quality. In the spot world, every second counts, so directors try to make each shot more powerful than he could in a full length program.
5. Cultural Impact- Commercials are a part of the fabric of our culture. Spots are celebrated, honored, and have become cultural icons. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a permanent collection of each year’s best commercials. This is a modern marketplace of ideas where people discuss, debate, and mix it up. Highly creative spots are often the number one water cooler conversation subject in offices across in America.
Secrets of a Good Commercial
The next time you produce a spot, work on these seven “commandments”:
1. Make sure it is believable and compelling. The spot should sell, but it should sell with truth and honesty.
2. Entertainment is good, but make sure it’s more motivational than entertaining. Entertainment is important and often causes people to recall the spot, but is a secondary goal.
3. Describe the competitive advantage. Don’t leave your audience confused about what the product offers.
4. Create strong visuals. On TV, visuals are far more important than sound. In fact, some researchers report that up to 85% of the message is visual, rather than aural.
5. Create high production value. Nobody overtly pays attention to production values, unless they stink.
6. Create a desire. At the end, no one should care about the TV spot; but they should want the product.
7. Focus on advancing the sale, not being “cute”. Think product and benefit.
Effective commercials can create awareness, a higher profile, and powerful impact. Explore the possibilities that explosive spots can give your church, ministry, or organization.