Advertising on Cable TV – How to Connect to Your Audience

There is nothing like seeing your brand on TV and knowing that your business is reaching thousands or millions of people. TV advertising is one of the oldest forms of marketing, and some people were raised with it. Think about everything you have heard about on TV. And while some are saying that TV is on its way out instead of streaming content, and many people are happy to see the ads go, millions of people still watch TV every day. Many people watch TV for hours or keep it on as background noise in their everyday lives. 

Yet advertising can be a complex subject, and you would not be alone in thinking that. You need to not only connect to an audience but connect to the right audience. Additionally, you need to consider costs, production, and so much more. Cable TV can be its own environment with its own concerns, and you should attune yourself to it as soon as possible. It can be competitive, and depending on the timing of your product and the budget involved, and you might not have a second chance. You will want to do all the research you can.

Your audience is receptive to the right message, and people who genuinely could use your product will be happy to hear about it. They might want to do more research first, but they’ll also be 

Here are some steps to take and what you need to know:

Your Audience: How to Connect to Them Using TV Advertising

Above all else, when creating a commercial to connect to an audience is a consideration of the audience itself. This holds true for any form of marketing. They are the reason you create the commercial (or rather your desire to sell something to that audience) and the ultimate consideration in any decision you make regarding your cable advertising strategy and commercial creation.

Your audience can be measured and prioritized in different ways. Are you truly looking for a general audience and are hoping to reach as many people as possible? Are you trying to reach a specific demographic you know is more likely to buy your product? These questions are vital for getting the best ROI for your advertising and creating the best ad for the job.

You need to combine the information you know about your audience with the information you know about your product to create the perfect commercial and find the right cable network and channel to advertise on (more on this later). Some of this will come down to all-important demographics. And the rest will come down to sound reasoning and choosing the right channels. After all, you don’t want to put an ad on for a product that would appeal to professionals in the middle of the workday.

If you’re a professional marketer or run a business, you already know what your average customer looks like. Consider that at scale and bring those notes to the commercial creation table.

The Benefits and Disadvantages of Cable Advertising

While the article here is about cable advertising, that doesn’t mean it is the right choice for every brand or marketer. Before we proceed further, let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of advertising on a cable network as opposed to broadcast TV or another form of advertising altogether:


  • For many brands and product types, it isn’t always about reaching as many eyeballs as possible. Broadcast television will likely do that. Yet cable advertising does one thing: it reaches cable customers. And while this seems obvious, you can reach people with more disposable income on average. They have enough money to pay for cable (which isn’t necessarily cheap), and they aren’t trying to save money by cutting the cord.
  • With so many niche cable networks and channels available to cable subscribers, advertisers have the opportunity to pick their audience honestly. While there’s no guarantee who will be watching what on a given day, we can have a pretty good idea of it. We’ll talk a bit more about picking the right channel(s) and hence the right audience later in the piece.
  • Cable advertising has a broad reach, unlike most other forms of advertising. You could potentially reach millions over the runtime of your ad. You can do it in a manner where you get more attention than most other forms of advertising provide. And you can probably get repeated viewings (an essential factor) depending on how long your ad is on the air.
  • You can do a lot with a video ad. Whether you intend to inform, shock, or delight the viewer, you can attach an emotional message to a video more easily than with another form of advertising.
  • Working with cable companies can also enable an opportunity to advertise on other platforms such as streaming websites. If that’s your main goal, you will want to take a different route, but such perks are available.


  • Advertising anywhere via a video format can be expensive. Producing a helpful advertisement isn’t cheap, and there is a lot of planning and filming. While you could do some of the production yourself, this is something you will want to outsource to a specialist.
  • With many forms of advertisement and marketing, you can make slight adjustments and edits on the fly. Want to change something about your social media page? As long as a post didn’t go viral in a bad way, no one is going to notice. Cable doesn’t have that advantage, and once you make a commercial and send it along, for the most part, that’s it.
  • While you can reach a broad audience and your chosen audience, if you’re going with a channel, you will not get the same audience as broadcast TV. Often the price reflects this, so it balances out, but it confirms that cable TV advertising is not for everyone.
  • If you want to reach a general audience, broadcast TV will still be better. Cable TV has more niche programming, and that’s great for targeting an audience, but there are fewer programs that practically everyone watches. 

Know Your Audience and Their Preferences

We’ve already said this before, but we need to say it again: success with advertising on cable television ultimately comes down to making the right choices given your information about your intended audience.

Who uses your product? Who do you want to use your product? And who might buy your product as a gift for other people? All of these questions are important, and they are already ones you should be asking concerning your business since they are the core of your business. You know that there is nothing like being able to connect to the right people, and all advertising is meant to do this.

If you cannot answer these questions perfectly, this will take some market research. And that’s perfectly fine, given that you will want to do such research as best you can to fine-tune the commercial’s particulars and some other marketing decisions you’ll make along the way. A small business might want to research on a smaller scale, and see what succeeds in their community. And larger businesses will want to tackle the more significant questions. Some services can help answer these questions for you, but note that they can be expensive and can only tell you so much. You should know why your brand succeeds.

Local markets also play a huge role in this, and you will want to consider precisely how they can play into your strategy. Think about just how far out you want to reach and the location of your business. Are you adopting a local strategy? Then you might want to appeal to that and only buy local ad time. This is just one example of tailoring the entire process to your intended audience.

The Creative Process

Naturally, advertising isn’t purely a creative art. It exists to sell something, and that should be at the forefront of your mind. But there are multiple ways to sell something, and whatever you have in mind for selling could be best sold by a different type of commercial than we would suggest. Therefore, we won’t go too far into how a commercial should be organized or directed. Tone matters, and we’ll talk about it in a bit. How the commercial is shot can determine how confusing or not an ad is. And the writing is copy brought to life on the screen. And each of these topics could take a whole book to review.

Yet just because we are not going to give specific advice on this topic doesn’t mean you should ignore it. You probably shouldn’t go with the first idea that pops in your head. You may not want to work with an ad agency that works too quickly to have an idea ready for your product. You want something to fit your product and connect it to the audience’s needs. That takes a bit of time to develop and refine the idea. The fact that you probably have 30 seconds or less means the commercial will take more creative effort, not less. Find the right fit for everything, then move forward.

Finding the Right Tone

Part of the creative process, and perhaps the first thing you want to start with, is finding the right tone for the commercial. And that mostly comes down to what you’re trying to sell or say. A commercial for an animal shelter or vet should probably have a different tone than a commercial for top-shelf vodka.

If you are working with an ad agency or other professional group to create your commercial, you can expect they can have good input on this. In fact, you might want to hand off most of the work to them. Once you know who your audience is and the general tone and intention you are looking for from the ad, they should be able to pick up the pieces from there so you can focus on other efforts.

Don’t Overstay Your Welcome or Overcrowd Your Ad

What is the one thing you want viewers to take away from your cable ad? Do you want them to know you exist, sell them a new product from your existing brand, or hear a message you have to say? You probably have only 30 seconds, though interestingly, 60 seconds was the norm until attention spans dropped. There is a key message. Everything else is a distraction.

Yet what about ads that are longer or shorter? About 30 seconds is the standard you will usually be used to, but there might be a 15-second slot you can make or a minute slot you can make. However, we recommend keeping to the 30-second slot unless you can make an outstanding commercial much shorter or you need a more extended slot. And if you think you need a longer slot, you probably don’t, and your creative ideas are getting out of hand for the medium. Judge your ideas harshly so you can create the best output possible. Question even the experts you are working with but don’t forget to defer to their experience. 

Overcrowding your ad with many different messages can mean that your viewers and potential customers won’t know what to think about your product. You can try to fit a couple of ideas into your advertisement, but you will need to be careful about it and 

If you’re looking for ideas or examples, look at the ads one sees every day and properly analyze them. What is the core message? Look at poor ads on local timeslots for cheap and then at multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercials. Study what you can and find the best balance to connect to your audience.

What Channel Is This On?

How long do you want to keep your commercial on the air? How many spots and when and where? There is an endless array of questions and possibilities to deal with. 

A cable company might also recommend channels or timeslots for you, but note that they might not have your best interests entirely at heart. They might just be trying to sell a spot that no one else wants and dressing it up as nicely as possible.

Your commercial might be meant to run on multiple channels to get a wider potential audience. This can be a smart strategy if your audience is likely to be diverse in their viewing habits.

In any case, you should consider the demographics that watch the programs and would watch the commercial. Does it line up? Some channels are marketed towards specific age groups, genders, or demographics. Try to line up your commercial content to those groups. Alternatively, only start looking at channels once you have the basics of the commercial line up. Your message is your message, and perhaps finding the right audience for it is better than adjusting the message constantly.

What Time to Set?

So you’ve thought about the channel, but what time should you run the commercial on a channel?

If you’re selling something to a younger audience, then depending on how old the audience is, you don’t want to put on a commercial past their bedtime. Instead, you might want to focus on the after-school timeslots or the primetime timeslots. Alternatively, young adults might stay up later than most people, in which case that midnight timeslot is perfectly fine if that’s your audience.

There is a good time for every audience, though they often overlap. There will be quite a few negotiations and you can time and use your knowledge to save a lot of money. Don’t try to make things perfect, but at least question the rate a broadcaster gives you for ads. It won’t hurt to ask questions, especially during a slow season.

If you’re not sure what timeslot to aim for, market research will be your best friend here, and we hope that it will be readily available for both your product and the demographics you are targeting.

And of course, you will have to balance this out with the cost of the timeslot, ideally finding a happy medium for your commercial. Remember that your goal is to get as many impressions as possible. Sometimes running an ad more often with your budget can be a better option. Ultra-competitive and pricey times might not always be worth it.

Seriously Consider the Expense

Speaking of pricey, TV commercials are expensive. They can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars to make if you let them get out of hand. If you’re in that price range, you will want to do more than read this article. You’re going to want to talk to an expert in the field,

On the other side of the coin, you do not want to cut costs too much on your commercial or rush things. If a poorly produced commercial doesn’t connect with your audience, you will be wasting your time and money. Furthermore, a lousy advertisement can dissuade potential customers from being interested in your product. While no publicity is bad publicity, lackluster publicity is also bad publicity.

It’s hard to say precisely how much everything will cost with your advertisement. We can provide a range of a few dollars to thousands of dollars per run, but we know that’s hardly helpful. It depends on the timeslot, the channel, the time of year, and many other factors. You will want to research this area and remember that just because you’re inquiring about prices and available timeslots doesn’t mean you are committed to buying a timeslot. You can absolutely shop around.

Notes on Pricing and Buying Time

It will be more complicated than the following, but we want at least to provide a primer on ad buying on cable here: 

  • When buying an ad, you’ll need to contact the sales department of a cable provider (probably the one closest to your target audience if you’re interested in a local spot). You’ll then discuss things with them and learn about what’s available. Depending on who you’re talking to, it might take a moment or two to get to pricing.
  • Note that if you’re advertising locally, you might be out of luck in availability. Popular shows might have already been booked where ads are concerned by larger national and regional advertisers. And if you’re interested in advertising on those scales, that’s a different story, and we hope you are consulting more than this short guide.
  • As a rule, the higher a program’s Nielsen ratings, the more expensive a spot in that period will be. Popular shows are expensive to run ads on, which makes sense given the limited ad time. It is all supply and demand.
  • You can also get a slot within a range when availability pops up (sometimes this is called a rotator package). If you’re more concerned with the channel and getting your message out there than the timeslot, this can be an excellent option for all parties involved. You might even be able to get your message out to people who watch at different times of the day, all at a discount.
  • Something to note throughout this process is that quite a bit is negotiable. At least with many cable systems, an advertised rate is more of a suggestion than anything else. You might be able to get a reasonable rate if you can work the system and use your knowledge wisely. Remember that cable companies do not want empty slots. Even modest revenue is better than no revenue. Yet also understand that sometimes negotiation won’t get you too far, especially when a spot is highly in demand.

Getting Started and Additional Notes

Television and cable are so far removed from so many of us that it can be challenging to know where to start. And while the process might vary a little depending on the network and your hopes, there is plenty to do and you do not need to panic. This isn’t a project that needs to get done in a single day. Stay calm, think things through, and remember the following:

  • Before contacting anyone, it would be wise to consider just what you are looking for and what type of ad you want to run. Being confident about these things will help you with negotiations and make the entire process much smoother. We’ve gone over this quite a bit in the previous sections.
  • Depending on the network and region, you might be paying only a few dollars for a single timeslot, though don’t expect to reach the widest audience available. The good news is that commercials on cable TV generally go for cheaper than they would on broadcast TV, which can easily go for thousands per spot depending on the time. They certainly still wouldn’t be the numbers you’d expect from something like an NFL playoff game; you will be set back with repeated airings.
  • And you want repeated airings. Often it takes multiple viewings for someone to pick up on the message of your commercial and be aware of your brand.
  • There will generally be and should be contracts to review and manage. Depending on your position, make sure you have the clearance to go ahead and finish up everything. You will want to make sure that you dot all the t’s and cross all the i’s (or vice versa) when at this stage, a mistake could result in you not getting what you want or costing a lot more than it should.
  • And then there is the matter of producing the commercial. You don’t have the staff and team necessary to create a quality television commercial. You’ll want to contact agencies and firms that can do this for you or work with you on it. Searches and requesting recommendations from trusted colleagues go a long way to finding the right partners.
  • And at the end of the process or negotiations, ensure you get a record or affidavit of performance. This is essentially a receipt of when your commercial aired and audience numbers. By studying these numbers, you can determine the ROI on your commercial and make adjustments in the future, should you want to run more ads or buy additional timeslots.


As we’ve stated, a lot goes into making a commercial and making a successful commercial on top of that. This will be a months-long process for you, and you will have to make many decisions on top of the ones you immediately think of, and we talk about here. Do additional research, plan everything out well, and organize what you can. It will all be worth it in the end, so long as you make sure to do things right and know what you’re getting into.

We hope that this information has been helpful to you and that you can better understand that there are multiple ways to handle the problem and that you need to take your time with it. Keep at it, get the help you need, and we hope to see your eventual commercial on TV someday.

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