How to Produce a TV Ad – The Rumpelstiltskin Story

As part of the “How to” series, the recent post was about what it takes to produce a print ad. I’d like to continue that series by talking about how an agency develops a TV ad, cinema ad or online video—a motion picture spot, in other words. Again, the layperson vastly underestimates what is required to produce the 30-second spot that you largely ignored as you started inhaling your popcorn.

As always, it starts with a creative brief, which outlines why we’re advertising, who our target audience is and why, and what the creative strategy for the campaign is. Then, after you brief the creative team, a whole cascade of events begins…

For the next few weeks, your creative team will be in a heightened state that ranges from high inspiration to self-torture and despair. Because you’ve essentially done to them what the king does in the story of Rumpelstiltskin. He takes a hapless young maiden, whom he mistakenly believes has the magical ability to transform ordinary objects into precious metals, and locks her in a room, demanding that by the next day she spin a pile of straw into pure gold. On pain of death. The difference here is that your team (hopefully) is not hapless, has the actual ability to transform a brief into beautiful ideas, and the punishment for failing to deliver is certainly not capital punishment.

What they’ll need to do in order to deliver will vary by team. Some will need to stay home and ruminate. Others will need to lock the door to their office and refuse to admit visitors. Some will go to a nearby Starbucks and set up camp, much to the delight of the baristas. Others will want you to come by and inspire them, entertain them, provoke them, reassure them, distract them. Whatever it takes is whatever it takes.

Because what they need to accomplish is the equivalent of writing a sonnet or a haiku: to achieve inspiration in a mercilessly tight frame. In about 27 seconds for a 30-second spot (a few seconds are reserved for branding and signoff), you have to find exactly the right story, images and words to captivate the imagination, deliver the unique benefit of the brand, link to the brand (so people remember what the commercial was for) and linger in the memory. They will also need to determine whether this spot is going to be live action, animation, or even documentary style (using real people vs. professional actors).

In the next post, I’ll talk about the process that ensues once the creative team comes up with ideas they deem worthy of presenting to you. All kinds of mayhem might follow.