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What Distinctions Exist Between Commercials and Advertisements?

All commercials are advertisements, but not all advertisements are commercials. Large and small businesses alike may benefit from understanding the distinctions between the two, as well as the other options available within the advertisement arena. Your education in these areas, marketing objectives and budget will help you determine whether or not to produce a commercial or develop another form of advertisement.


Advertisements – also known as ads – are the vehicle in which companies and the advertising industry drive their message to consumers. The goal is to motivate consumers to buy goods or services, change their thinking or create excitement.

Ads, by definition, are purchased (space or time) and public (as opposed to personal). Examples of advertisement categories include print, mail, telephone, radio, television and Internet. Within these categories are sub-categories. For instance, a television ad may be a silent television show promo that appears on the edge of your screen announcing its premiere date and time, a commercial or an infomercial.


Commercials are a type of advertisement identified by the use of voice and length of time – typically 10 to 60 seconds. Using voice in this type of advertisement requires purchased time to run the pre-recorded voiceover (commentary over or without images) or dialogue/monologue by an actor in the commercial. Examples of commercial placement include television, radio, Internet or kiosks at public places such as malls, airports and public transportation stations. Commercials are also increasingly used at gas stations, grocery stores and medical offices where consumers watch while they wait.


Infomercials are a type of commercial – and, thus, advertisement – distinguished first by its longer length, between 15 and 30 minutes. While some traditional commercials may demonstrate the product, the infomercial uses its extended time to present needs, demonstrate ways the featured product will solve them, illustrate benefits and issue a call to action for consumers. The infomercial is not confined to late-night television; depending on your industry and potential kiosk use, you may consider developing one in other arenas, or even on your own website.


Whether your business is large or small, research your options and storyboard your advertisements before hiring designers and buying space and time. With so many ad choices, you will be wise to know what is within your budget, and do everything you can at once; one photo shoot, one actor who can serve in both your commercial and voiceover ad (radio, Internet, trade show kiosk), or whatever advertisements you choose.

In addition to reigning in your budget, planning ahead may help you stay on your brand message. If you decide to develop a commercial, choose a voice you may also use for voiceover work and an actor for print ads.


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