How to Use Cable Advertising

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The attraction of cable advertising is simple: visuals often communicate a better message than words. A professionally-produced television commercial brings products and services to life in a variety of ways for the cable audience. Maximize your marketing power by learning how to use cable advertising to your advantage.

Focus on Your Audience

Cable advertising is broken down into four parts, each used to reach a different market segment. These include:

  • Geographic zones
  • Demographic zones
  • Local cable
  • National cable

Learn Your Audience's Viewing Patterns

To help you decide when to air your ads, an account executive from the cable company will provide a demographic breakdown of viewers' channel preferences and viewing patterns.

Viewing Patterns and Prices

The most expensive options are not always the most effective:

  • Primetime and daytime slots on weekdays and weekends are peak viewing times. Consequently, they are the most expensive. Unless you have a specific call to action in your ad, it is generally not cost effective to opt for these time slots.
  • General awareness campaigns tend to be just as effective when aired in the less pricey time slots.
  • Another option is to zero in on a specific audience by sponsoring a particular program or feature.

Make Good Decisions

The formula for success is to combine reach with frequency, but how? Look to your account executive to shepherd you through the process, but don't follow blindly. This person typically has deep knowledge of the cable industry, so ask questions and consider his advice carefully. At the same time, be aware that he most likely reports to the sales manager for the cable company. While part of his job is to help you, his first allegiance is to generating ad revenue for his employer.

If he doesn't automatically provide appropriate documentation to support his recommendations, be sure to ask for:

  • Ratings results
  • Audience flow patterns
  • Case studies

Together with the account executive, you will need to carefully document:

  • A clear identification of the audience
  • How the product or service benefits the audience
  • Strategic placement of the message

Identifying the Best Audience

Your account executive will know cable data inside and out, but he won't know your customer. If you haven't already, write a strong customer profile, and keep the image of that person firmly in mind as you sift through the cable data. The goal is to look for cable segments whose viewers have the most in common with your customer profile.

For example, if your product is a small kitchen appliance, does that mean you automatically opt for the Cooking Channel? Not necessarily. If the appliance is a pasta maker, the Cooking Channel may be a perfect fit. If your appliance is a hot dog maker, look for a more down to earth audience. Always consider lifestyle attributes above keywords.

Let the Professionals Handle the Creative

Cable companies have a staff of creative writers, camera operators, lighting specialists and broadcast producers trained to create effective cable advertising. Let them manage the tactical aspects of the production, while you focus on the big picture.

Your role is to:

  • Clearly identify your objectives in writing
  • Provide talking points for the message
  • Be clear about your expectations
  • Offer clarification to the creative team as needed

Coordinate with the creative staff to:

  • Determine the length of the commercial (generally 15 or 30 seconds)
  • Decide how many times the business is mentioned in the ad
  • Designate how the address/phone number is communicated

The producer is a member of the creative team. She will:

  • Select music to complement the ad
  • Utilize technology to dissolve, fade and merge imagery
  • Selectively place wording in both audio and/or on-screen text to effectively achieve the desired message


Unless your image is integral to the company's brand, resist the urge to be in the ad. Shine the light, instead, on your customers, products and services to help create your brand identity.

Consider the Players

Countless business people will simply go to their local cable providers, but you do have other options. At last count cable television companies in the United States numbered 1,123. The top five are:

  • Comcast, with 22 million viewers
  • Time Warner, with 12.3 million viewers
  • Cox Communications, with 4.6 million viewers
  • Verizon, with 4.6 million viewers
  • AT&T, with 4.3 million viewers

Even with 22.2 million viewers, Comcast holds an approximate 30 percent market share. If you are purchasing advertising for a specific real estate agency, a health insurance company or a localized restaurant chain, a regional market is exactly what you want. If your product has a broader geographic appeal, like a national political campaign or durable medical products, you may want to cast a wider net. This would mean working with multiple cable companies.


If you work with multiple cable companies, you may be able to trim costs by using the same creative treatment across multiple geographic markets. Ask the company developing your creative for the rights to air it elsewhere. They may be able to provide electronic media that your other cable companies, with minor edits, can simply plug and play.

Learn the Lingo

Like any industry, cable television has very specific business terms. Here are a few that will come up quite frequently as you plan your ad campaign.

  • Adjacency: Placing your ad before or after a specific program
  • Daypart: Divided segments throughout the broadcast day
  • Flight: Placement and length of time your advertising will run on the station
  • Storyboard: The flow of how a television ad will look in action and words, set in frames

To better understand broadcast terminology, view a more comprehensive list, visit the Cable Advertising Glossary.

The Future of Cable Advertising

Many forms of broadcast advertising can be expensive, but as a mass outlet, it's often the best way to reach thousands, or even millions, of potential customers at once. As increasing numbers of cable channels make the move to producing their programming, both the risks and rewards of cable advertising grow.

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