Television Commercial Facts

By Don Patton

Television commercials have long been an effective means of advertising products. Today they are less dominant in the television landscape due to the rise of TiVo, commercial free cable and other forms of video entertainment. New types of advertising like sponsorship of sporting events featured on television and the placement of products within shows are growing, but traditional commercials still take up significant airtime and account for a large amount of broadcaster revenue.

Pervasive Commercials

The average American home has at least one television turned on for almost seven hours each day, according to the advocacy group TV-Free America. With commercials making up around one-fourth of that time, nearly two hours of commercials are bombarding our households every day. The group also estimates that a child in the United States watches as many as 20,000 commercials in a single year.


Advertisers spend $45 billion a year on television advertising. In 2012, the cost to run a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl reached 3.5 million dollars. With 70 ads running, the gross revenue for that single broadcast approached a quarter of a billion dollars. The price tag to produce a national TV ad can be $300,000, though local spots with lower production quality usually cost considerably less.

Legal Restrictions

The Federal Trade Commission prohibits the use of deceptive statements and unsubstantiated claims in advertising. Federal Communications Commission rules prevent advertisers from running ads for tobacco products, although smoking accessories like pipes are not included in the ban. There are no laws preventing the advertising of alcoholic beverages, but there are restrictions. The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Treasury requires all ads for alcoholic beverages to include the product maker’s name and location; it also prohibits them from using symbols like insignia, flags and coats of arms that might imply endorsement by any organization or country.

Voluntary Restraint

Until 1996, liquor advertisers refrained from advertising their products on television. Today, the trade organizations for alcoholic beverages have guidelines covering television advertising. They prohibit the use of actors that even look like they might be underage, and content suggesting that drinking makes the consumer more mature, confident or sexually successful. Their codes specifically ban the use of cartoon characters and Santa Claus. You will probably never see someone actually drinking an alcoholic beverage in a commercial, and the ad makers are careful about associating the use of their products with driving.

Product Placement

Advertisers now sometimes integrate their products right into the content of the television shows. By paying a fee to the producers of a show, they can guarantee viewers will see the product, even though they may skip traditional ads on their video recorders.

Volume Level

For years, there have been complaints about the increased volume of the television during commercials. At the end of 2012, a new FCC regulation will mandate that the volume level during commercials not be above the average volume for the rest of the program.