Why Affordable TV Commercials Don't Have to Look Cheap

  • Harry Hayes

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What's the Secret to Making Low Budget, Affordable TV Commercials Look More Expensive and Professional? 

It’s sad but true—most low-budget, or affordable TV commercials are embarrassing to watch.

They’re plagued by amateurish acting, flat lighting, and cheesy editing. And in most instances, by bad creative concepts from start to finish.

An hour watching any local TV station will prove my point.

Even affordable TV commercials can have good lighting and interesting camera angles.

The Good News

But there is good news: working with a low budget doesn’t mean you’re stuck with low production values. Or at least it doesn’t have to.

With a little care and creativity, your TV advertising can be more cinematic, more engaging to viewers, and ultimately, more effective.

These commercials I shot for ATC Income Tax are a great example.

Raising Production Values

So how can you keep production values high, even on a limited budget?

It starts with the concept. The first thing to go in most low budget productions is the idea—copywriters and designers don’t work for free after all.

That’s why with ATC and other small business clients, I offer to revise the script (I was a copywriter in a previous life).

Once you have a tight script, producing it becomes a lot simpler.

Another easy way to raise production values is to use professional on-camera talent. Whether it’s actors playing a part, or a spokesperson telling a story, it helps to hire people who know what they’re doing.

It also saves time during production, with fewer flubbed lines and better chemistry on camera.

Here’s one of the commercials I shot for ATC. It works in large part because of the natural performances.

This particular commercial was shot in my home, which brings up another important production element.

Where To Shoot?

On a limited budget, you rarely have the money to hire location scouts or pay high rental fees. So you have to get a little creative. Or lucky at least.

In this ATC example, we used my home, and my furniture. Those are my dishes and silverware, too.

Whatever works, right?

A low production budget doesn't have to mean low production value.

Creative Storytelling

Perhaps the most important element of production is HOW the story is told.

The look of the footage, the lighting, the camera angles, they all work together to tell a story. And a low budget makes it all too easy to leave out important details.

In the commercial above, I used camera angles to show the relationship between characters, and used the lit candles to add subtle lighting touches. 

Most producers don’t spend the time for those types of things, especially on a limited budget. But I believe if you’re going to do something, you should try to do it right.

Maybe that’s why ATC Income Tax has been a client for several years.


About the Author: 

Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

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