It doesn't have to be that way. Spot Runner, a Los Angeles startup, is offering entrepreneurs ready-made ads they can customize, then air locally. For two weeks in November, Kriser gave it a try, running 30-second ads 144 times on networks including ABC Family, Lifetime, and Animal Planet, all in his local market.
While his ad didn't look cheap, it came cheap, considering the results. In the three weeks during and immediately after his campaign, calls to The Barking Lot were up 20% to 30%. Kriser received a discount for participating in Spot Runner's pilot program, but without it, the ads would have cost him $1,700.
While the advent of local cable operators has made airtime more reasonably priced, the legwork involved in placing ads has been enough to deter many business owners. That's on top of the steep production costs, often tens of thousands of dollars, required to produce high-quality ads.
Spot Runner is so cheap in part because it has moved that process online. The company maintains an online library of thousands of industry-specific 30-second spots that can be customized with a client's own narration, contact information, and logo for $350 to $500. Prices include limited-time exclusivity to keep competitors from running the same commercial in the same market. Extended exclusivity periods are available for a fee.
The next steps are to choose a budget, decide how long you want the ad to run, and select one of three objectives: awareness, limited-time promotion, or call to action. Spot Runner then generates an ad schedule based on built-in demographic assumptions about your industry. You can tweak it by adding or removing channels, changing the number of times an ad runs on a particular channel, or altering the time of day an ad runs. The whole process takes about 10 days.
Not all broadcast markets are equally accessible. Local cable service providers determine the availability of networks and time slots. There tend to be plenty of options for big cities, but smaller markets such as Eugene, Ore., and Madison, Wis., offer only a handful of local channels.
Of course, rates and time windows vary widely between markets. An ad running during CNN's Headline News in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens costs from $188 to $282. The same ad runs on CNN Headline News in North Dallas for $8 to $9 a pop. A small price to pay, says Kriser, to look like one of the big dogs.