By: Anna Dodson & Caroline Lancaster, Creative

Ask a home builder how much it would cost to build a house, and they’ll tell you that they can build you a $50,000 house or a $50,000,000 house. It all depends on how big you want it and what you want in it. The same is true when budgeting to produce a TV commercial. The simpler or shorter the commercial, the less it will cost, but cutting too many corners could result in an ad that’s less noticeable, and therefore, less effective or even a complete waste of money. So, the goal is to spend as much as necessary to deliver a concept that’s clear, memorable and motivates viewers to act … without breaking the bank. Easier said than done? Not necessarily, but there are a lot of choices to be made.

Commercial length will be a factor in the cost. The 30-second format is the most common, so it will be necessary to determine the length of your ad before you can get an accurate estimate. Production of a 10 or 15-second spot will be cheaper, and 60 seconds or longer will be more expensive. But, rates will vary. A 15-second commercial won’t necessarily cost exactly half of a 30-second, nor will a :30 cost exactly half of a :60. In fact, a :15 may cost 65 percent of a :30, and a :30 may cost 65 percent of a :60. So, while you spend more out-of-pocket for longer formats, you may get better value.

A video spot, whether for broadcast or web, consists of sights and sounds … what you see and what you hear, so you need to budget for both. Start with a solid concept and message, then gain an understanding of what time and resources are required to best bring the concept to life.

There is a seemingly infinite number of options and combinations for audio, video, equipment and personnel, so for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick with the basics, starting with audio.

Audio is the soundtrack for your commercial and may or may not consist of a voice track, music, and sound effects. This is compiled, assembled and mixed in a sound studio. Typically, there is an hourly charge for the studio and audio engineer. The voice talent may be provided by someone talking on-camera or in the sound booth in the studio. Each talent sets their own rates and there may be a talent agency fee attached to their cost if you book the talent through an agency. Cost will also vary by the ad airing nationally, regionally, locally or by how many markets it will air in. The length of the run will also factor in. A standard run is 90 days, so you may be required to pay the announcer again if it runs longer. You can also negotiate a “buy out” up front, paying more but for unlimited usage. Sometimes, a business owner or employee will be the spokesperson, so they may not charge for their talent. Conversely, multiple voices can be used at an additional cost. You may choose not to use a voice at all, and just use music and sound effects, saving you studio-time cost and talent fees. For music, you can pay to have a jingle written and performed, you can pay for the rights to use a licensed “popular” song or just use a song from a music library and pay a “needle drop” fee for the piece you use and number of markets. If requested, the audio engineer can “sweeten” the track with sound effects for emphasis and continuity with what’s happening on screen. There’s not a charge per sound effect, but there is a charge for the additional studio time to search for and add effects.

Video can come from any number of sources, and costs will vary greatly based on the choices you make. Do you want to feature people on screen? If so, celebrities will always cost the most, but there are other options. Local actors and models are frequently used. A speaking talent will cost more than a non-speaking talent, and primary actors (foreground) may cost more than extras (background). Again, a business owner may wish to serve as their own spokesperson, so there wouldn’t be a talent fee. Non-professional extras and actual customers for testimonials can be used for little or no cost. But for any of these options, video would require hiring a camera crew for a video shoot. Your concept will help you decide whether it’s a location shoot, which could be indoors or outdoors, or a shoot on a sound stage. Additional factors in determining the shoot cost include the director, size of the crew, type of camera, lighting, sound, props, costumes, teleprompter, backdrops, special equipment such as a jib, crane or drone, etc. Fortunately, most studios offer a variety of packages for different budgets, so you don’t have to remember to ask for it all. If a studio or location shoot is out of your budget, there are numerous stock footage and photo libraries you can search in order to purchase clips and images, a la carte, of just about anything as a quick and lower cost alternative for your commercial. If you decide not to use on-camera talent, then you already know, from the previous paragraph, how voice-over talents work.

Then, there’s post-production which includes assembling, fine tuning and even creating the content for your ad. The editors and graphic artists can create visuals as simple as plain white static text on a solid background, to extravagant 3D animations and special effects. They can create entire scenes or just add graphics and transitions to video or stills. They can replace or remove things out of scenes, color-correct items or areas within scenes, and speed up or slow down live action. Post-production can be billed as an hourly charge or set cost. However, keep in mind that most studios charge for revisions after a certain point, so make sure you have an understanding up front of their revision fees and what constitutes a “revision.” The post-production studios will make and send out or upload high-res files of your commercials to the various broadcast outlets. There is a fee for that service as well, so ask about it if they don’t mention it.

Now, you know everything you should know about budgeting for a commercial! So how much does it cost to build a commercial? Well, we can build you a $500 ad or a $500,000,000 ad.

Give us a call at 800-624-9239 or email us at to discuss how we can help.

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