Ray Norman

The Worst Commercial Ever: A Guide to Creating Better Ads

31.01.16 11:45 AM By Ray Norman


 If your marketing utilizes radio, television or web commercials, It makes sense to invest in quality production, even if it means a slightly smaller media buy.  Why? Well, imagine if you will... 

The worst commercial ever.

Picture whatever you want, but it must be the worst commercial ever:  no one who hears or sees it can remember who it’s for, knows what it’s about, nor can stand to endure it.  Would it matter how many times that “worst commercial ever” ran?   

In fact, it’s easy to imagine that increasing repetitions of this commercial would simply be throwing money into an advertising schedule that is a black hole, gobbling up the budget with nothing in return.

No one wants this- not the client, the agency or even the media buyer, because in the end, if the campaign isn’t successful, everybody loses.

Now then, imagine.... the best commercial ever. 

It’s magical.  It’s memorable. It’s motivational.  With this commercial, each time it runs, whoever is exposed to it- is mesmerized- and sold.  (Hence my definition of “best commercial ever”.)  A smaller media buy to offset the production budget would not be a loss at all- the power lies in the power of the commercial itself- 

not the number of repetitions.

Although best and worst are extremes, If you or your clients are in the business of utilizing radio, TV and web-embedded infomercials, your ads fall somewhere on the spectrum of best to worst.  Great copywriting and production are the foundation for a great return on your marketing budget.

Consistency beats Creativity

There should always be at least one consistent element in the production that creates instant recognition for your commercials. You don’t change your company logo and slogan every time you order new paper stock- why would you change your commercial’s music, voice talent or on-camera spokesperson every time you change copy?  

It’s a deadly sin, I’m tellin’ you. Mick Jagger always looks like Mick Jagger.

His haircut is the same so you’ll recognize him!  If Mick shaves his head, he’s lost brand recognition. Don’t get me started on when Metallica cut their hair- it made their fans hate their new album!  So be consistent.

Elements in your commercials to keep consistent are:

  • Voice over or on-camera talent

  • Music

  • Voice over or Graphics intro/outro

  • Slogan


If you use a local station announcer or on-camera talent, consider that they may be on many local commercials- perhaps even a competitor!  If you do use local talent, ask for non-compete exclusivity during the length of your campaign (if that's possible). Personal endorsements are ideal if you use a local celebrity.

Choose a talent or voice artist that will be solely yours, and you’ll never worry about hearing/seeing them on a competitor's commercial.


As with logo design, you want something original- and you want to keep it yours alone. Even a cut of stock music, if you use it consistently, will help with your brand identity.  (You don't have to use it forever- the duration of a campaign will do)  Custom music is of course the best option, since it’s licensed to you and your market exclusively.  A simple instrumental, custom made for your campaign, will do the trick. Using pop music is a less attractive option due to expense, but most “indie” labels are happy to license their artist’s music for advertising, know as a sync license. These aren’t always bands you’ve heard of, and they aren’t singing your name, but if the mood fits, the song can help with your brand recognition. The drawback here is that in addition to greater expense, if you're driving a single-market campaign, there's nothing to stop a regional or national advertiser from also using that same song- which can muddle your message. No matter what- the music should create the mood you’re after, and synchronize perfectly to the voiceover or video content.

Voice over Intro/Outro

“15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance”

Instantly, you recognize the above sentence- and who it's for.  Even though Geico has changed story lines, what with the gecko, the “did you know” and “caveman” campaigns, they kept the voice over tag, and the voice-over talent that reads it- the same.  It’s the perfect combo of witty, memorable front end and a consistent ending.  

Of course, keep your slogan consistent- or at least the same throughout your planned campaign.  I don't count "Save Like Never Before" as a slogan-I mean, hasn't that been used already?  

Being consistent with the sounds and images in your advertising, and making an effort to create memorable commercials adds up to the best investment you can make in TV and Radio.  Good investment = good return.  

About Ray Norman

Ray has 3 decades experience writing and producing ads for broadcast, with a specialty in sound design and voiceover. Nowadays, "broadcast" includes the web, and anywhere your message needs be. Check out examples of his work here.

Ray Norman