Writing scripts for commercials that are seen on TV is probably just about every copywriter's dream. Copywriters write copy for print advertisements every day, but to be able to write a script for a commercial that will be seen nationwide is seen as a mark of success. The truth is, any piece of effective copy that brings in results makes a copywriter a success. Yet for some reason, being able to write a script for a commercial is something greater in the eyes of a copywriter.
In this article, we're going to learn to write scripts for TV, radio, and multimedia presentations.
Types of Commercials
Before we get started learning how to write scripts for television commercials, let's talk about the different types of commercials. They are listed below. This list is to give you ideas for an angle to take when writing a script for a commercial. It gives you a place to start rather than pulling ideas out of thin air, which can feel like an overwhelming and impossible task.
Continuing characters. A fictional character that appears in a series of commercials and print advertisements. Think of the Jolly Green Giant.
Animation or cartoons. Effective when selling to children.
Jingles. A jingle as a slogan set to music. The slogans stick in people's minds.
Emotion. These are commercials that use nostalgia or sentimentality. Think of Hallmark commercials.
Reason-Why lists reasons why customers should buy the product. These types of commercials can be effective, but reason-why copy usually is more effective when applied to print.
Humor. Funny commercials are liked by consumers. Think of Wendy's and "Where's the Beef?" However, the commercial must be humorous to consumers. Otherwise, all the money spent on creating it will have been a waste.
Testimonials. Commercials that feature testimonials from real people who've used the product can be among the most effective.
Stand-up Presenter. This type of commercial involves a salesman of sorts who stands in front of the camera and delivers a sales pitch. Think of the Oxy Clean commercials.
Slice-of-Life. Two or more characters act out a story involving the product.
Demonstration. In this type of commercial, the product is demonstrated so viewers can see how it works.
About Writing Copy for Television Commercials
The one thing you need to understand about television commercials is they are not word based like the other types of advertisements. While with other types of advertisements, the words you write are what sells the product, it's not that way with commercials. The words you write for the script are important. However, the pictures must also deliver a sales message. Someone who watches a commercial should know what's being sold even if the sound is off. The words are there to tell what the pictures are showing. In commercials, the pictures and the words work together to produce the message.
Since the pictures and words work together, you must also balance them out. Commercials are in 10, 30, 60, and 120 second slots. That said, if you have a lot of words to be spoken in the allotted time frame, keep the pictures simple so they don't distract from the words. If you're going to have a lot going on in the pictures, don't use a lot of words. The pictures and the words should work together, not fight for the viewer's attention. To give the commercial focus, only present one idea – just like you would with print ads.
A 60 second commercial is usually about 90 words.
If you're selling a mail-order product, a 120 second slot is typically the most effective.
10 second commercials are usually just identification – a quick image of the product and the product name.
It goes without saying that you must write a commercial script so that it immediately grabs the viewer's attention. People tend to walk away from the television when commercials come on. In print ads, you use a headline to grab attention. In a commercial, you have the first impression to grab attention. The story has to be interesting enough. You must grab their attention in the first four seconds so they sit and watch. The first four seconds are your virtual headline. Make your opening so compelling that they want to watch. You can use catchy music, a visual, a dramatic enactment, or even present them with a real-life problem.
Let them see the product in action. Let them hear the sound of the music from a Bluetooth speaker. Let them see that burger sizzling on the grill. Show them the soda pouring from the can. Make use of having both sight and sound at your disposal and bring the product to life for them. For example, if you're writing a commercial for a brand of bacon, don't just show people eating the bacon and loving it. Let them see it in the skillet. Let them hear it crackle as it cooks. Awaken as many of their senses as you can in the commercial. If it's bacon, make their mouths water with words, sounds, and pictures.
You should also use what's called "supers" in commercials. Supers are white type that's superimposed over the pictures. They can give brief tidbits of information that's not spoken in the script, or they can reinforce selling points. An example might be, "Order Now and Receive Free Shipping!"
How to Write Commercial Scripts
When you write a script for a television commercial, video or pictures are typed on the left, words and sound effects are typed on the right.
The manuscript will look something like this:
Listed below are some abbreviations used in television commercial scripts:
VO – Voice-over
SFX – Sound effectsInterested in learning more? Why not take an online Advertising Copywriter course?
MS – Medium shot. This is a shot of a subject in the foreground with plenty of scenery.
LS – A distant shot of a subject.
CU – The subject dominates the shot and the screen.
TS – Tight shot. A little or no space surrounds the subject
ANNCR – Announcer
How to Write Radio Ads
Whereas television commercials use pictures, words, and sounds, radio ads only use words and sounds. Radio ads should focus on selling points. Use the key selling points of the product to write the ad. Make sure you write using short and concise sentences. People are going to be listening to the ad, and the ad only lasts for a matter of seconds, so you want them to be able to understand every word.
In addition, you always need to repeat key information in the ad. Things such as a company's name, address, and phone number need to be repeated. Look at the example below.
The Types of Multimedia Presentations
In addition to writing scripts for TV commercials and radio ads, copywriters can be asked by clients to write other scripts as well. Even though these scripts won't be used for commercials or radio spots, they are just as important forms of advertising.
They include scripts for:
A CD or DVD presentation
Multimedia that combines video and slides with projectors
These scripts can be created for:
Advertising inquiry fulfillment – or sent to leads who responded to an ad
Product demonstration or introduction
You can write video scripts using the same manuscript format that you use for television commercials. However, unlike television commercial scripts, you can make them as long as they need to be – or as long as your client prefers them to be. Just take the time to research the information that you need to present. Just as with print ads, you want to research the topic, product, purpose, and audience.
Once you start writing, you want to hook the audience early in the script, then be compelling throughout. Write using action verbs, as well as colorful phrases. Do not write in the passive voice. If video is not part of the presentation, use your words to paint visuals. Keep sentences concise and easy to understand. Repeat key selling points several times so you can be sure the listener or viewer hears them.
How to Work as a Copywriter
Thus far, we've discussed how to write copy as an advertising copywriter. What we haven't talked about is how you can find work as an advertising copywriter. Of course, it goes without saying that you can search the job sites on the Internet. You can find copywriter positions available in your area. These are typically positions with ad agencies or companies that have an in-house writing staff. These are viable options, and we'll talk more about these in this section. However, these types of positions require experience or a degree. The truth of the matter is you don't have to have either to get started as a copywriter.
Building a Portfolio
The one thing any potential employer is going to want to see from you when you look for a job as a copywriter is your portfolio. A portfolio contains different pieces of ad copy that you've written. As much as showing how well you can write, the pieces in a portfolio show how well you can think – or how well you can take an idea, create a strategy, then develop copy that sells that idea. And not just in print, on a website, or in an ad – across all mediums. They want to see you sell that idea in an ad, on a landing page, on a website, and in a direct mail piece. Potential employers want to see you can develop a message and use that message to sell!
Nowadays, most copywriters keep their portfolio online. Having your portfolio online makes it easy for potential employers to reference it. You can include it as part of your website so that in addition to having your portfolio online, you can include a little more information about you – the copywriter. That said, it's also nice to have a hard copy of your portfolio. Hard copy portfolios are nice for job interviews where you're not sure if the potential employer will have a computer in front of him or her -- or if you're cold calling on potential clients.
Creating a Hard Copy Portfolio
To create a hard copy portfolio, you'll need to print the work you want to include in it if you don't already have copies. You'll also need a binder. Take the time to shop for an attractive binder. Leather is durable and has a professional look. You don't want to skimp on the work you include or the binder. It's important to have an organized, professional image.
Creating an Online Portfolio
If you want to create a digital portfolio, you can do so by keeping it on a CD or a disk. However, most copywriters these days keep theirs on a website or on a writer's portfolio site. This makes your portfolio easier to share. You may need to scan some of your work into your computer, then convert it to PDF or JPEG format. No matter how you choose to assemble your portfolio, you should include at least 12 pieces of work and have as many as 20 on hand in case you need to show more to a potential employer or client.
What Goes into Your Portfolio
A portfolio isn't just samples of your writing. It's also a sample of how you can take an idea and turn it into a strategy, then an effective, winning message. You want to show a potential employer or client that you can translate that message across different mediums as well. That said, include landing page copy, PPC ads, website copy, direct mail pieces, etc.
Organize the material that you include so you can display all the different types of copy you write. For example, organize it by ad copy, brochures, newsletters, sales copy, etc. If you have a hard copy portfolio, use page dividers to organize your work. A portfolio is also known as a book, so take the time to put together your portfolio just as you would a book.
Creating a Portfolio When You Have Zero Experience
When you're first starting out as a copywriter, you may not have any work to include in a portfolio – or not enough work. That's okay. Everyone starts out with zero experience, but it doesn't mean you still can't build a portfolio.
Use your swipe file for ideas, and create your own samples for your portfolio. You can use Microsoft Publisher to create different pieces or – if you have access – you can also employ a graphic designer to help create pieces for you. You can also take the opportunity to create advertisements for your own business, or you can volunteer your services and write a church bulletin, a flyer for a charity, or advertisements for a neighbor who runs a lawn service. The important thing is to show potential employer and clients that you have the skills and ideas to write effective ad copy for them.
Working as a Freelance Copywriter
While many copywriters work within ad agencies or in-house marketing departments, many experienced and inexperienced copywriters decide to freelance. Freelancing means that you work for yourself. You find your own clients, you provide your own health insurance, and you determine how much or how little you work – and earn. When you freelance, you are an independent copywriter.
How to Get Clients
You have two basic choices for attracting clients as a freelance copywriter. You can cold call local businesses and ad agencies, offering your services. If you do this, you'll probably want a hard copy portfolio, as well as business cards and other information about your services that you can leave behind. In this day in age, everyone says they're too busy to meet with a salesman who comes in off the street, so you'll probably also be asked to leave a rate sheet. You may pick up a few clients this way, but it will be hard to attract a stable full of clients.
Instead, you can use the Internet to find clients. There are sites such as Upwork.com and Guru.com where you can browse copywriting jobs, then bid on them. When you bid on a job, you'll be asked to enter your price, as well as submit your proposal. In addition, you'll need samples of your own work to show a potential client that you can successfully do the job.
It can be slow getting started with actual work on sites like these because the competition is steep, but it can also be worth it if you persevere. If you do a good job for your clients, you'll get more work from them. Plus, they will give you testimonials which will help you secure more clients. Once you get started and prove yourself as an effective copywriter, you'll be able to find as many clients as you want.
How to Know What to Charge
There isn't one resource that you can consult to tell you what to charge for your copywriting services. Your prices should be competitive, but you shouldn't under-charge either. To start with, you can look in publications from Writer's Digest or the National Writer's Union. However, be warned, these publications typically reflect rates charged by freelance copywriters with experience and who find their clients through other means than freelance job sites. The prices are on the high side.
But what you want is to get started as a copywriter. Even though rates on the freelance job sites are a tad lower, they are the most efficient way to find continual work. To get an idea of what rates you should charge, look at other freelance copywriter's websites. You can even ask other copywriters. You'll find some copywriters charge per project, some per piece, and some per hour.
Consider these things when setting your prices:
Per hour means per labor hour, not actual hours.
Factor in your overhead and taxes when setting a rate. Most copywriters charge close to $50 per hour for this reason.
Consider setting a minimum labor hour rate and using that to produce per-project or per-piece charges.
Charging less than the competition is a big no-no. It reflects lower quality. Be competitive. You can even charge more once you have the experience to back you up.
Keep in mind the goals you have for your income when establishing a price.
Test your prices as you start to look for clients. Don't feel like you have to work for pennies because you're inexperienced. Your portfolio speaks for itself and shows clients that you can do the job and do it well. Eventually, you'll start to see the magic spot where your price and your experience come together to make it easier to attract clients to you.
Writing a Proposal
If you decide to get started on one of the freelance job sites available online, the one thing you're going to have to learn to do is to sell yourself, as well as your services, in a written proposal. While there are several guides on the market that claim to be able to teach you how to write winning proposals, the truth is that you already know how to write winning proposals.
Essentially, a proposal is nothing but a short sales letter. The proposal starts with a salutation. If you know the client's name, address them by their name. If you know their gender, you can write "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam". You can address it "To whom it may concern" or even "Dear Potential Client". But always start out with a salutation.
Take the first paragraph to briefly introduce yourself. Tell them what you can offer their company. You can cite conversion rates for past campaigns, years of experience, or – if you don't have any experience – you can cite copy you've written that's similar to what they need. If you have experience in their industry, tell them that as well. Keep the first paragraph brief. Just give them a reason to be interested enough in you to keep reading.
In the next few paragraphs, acknowledge the problem they face just as you would in a sales letter. Explain what your approach to their project would be and why it would be successful. Remember to write persuasive, compelling copy. You are selling them on you! Be exciting. Be convincing. Inspire confidence!
Once you've made your case, make the offer. Tell them your rate for the project, as well as what that rate includes. If you offer a guarantee, state that along with the terms. Never guarantee the success of the copy, because there are several factors that determine the success of a campaign. Copy is one of the main factors, but not the only.
End the letter with an invitation for them to contact you for more information or for an interview. State your willingness to provide whatever they need to be confident in their hiring decision. Sign the letter with "Sincerely" or "Regards" or something of that nature, then follow it by typing your full name.
Working for an Ad Agency
It doesn't matter how good of a copywriter you are out of the gate, most ad agencies out there today require a degree or three to five years' experience, if not both. And they usually don't want just any degree either. They look for majors in advertising, marketing, communications, English, journalism, psychology, liberal arts, and media studies.