Part of a scriptwriting series written and compiled to provide tips, ideas, and examples
Writing commercial scripts, as almost anyone in the advertising business will tell you, is more difficult than it seems — at first glance, anyway.
Consequently, if you’ve been tasked with writing commercial scripts and you’re a little uncertain about style, format, and structure, or you’re simply looking for a flash of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, we hope this series will help you on your way! (Remember to look at our other posts in this series as well: documentary, video game trailer, promotional, business presentation, and explainer video scripts).
Advertisement projects are by far the most frequent jobs posted on Voice123, so let’s take a closer look at this specific genre.
Broadly speaking, short commercial/advertising scriptwriting tends to adhere to a well-proven structure:
State it; explain it; repeat it.
The purpose is simple: you’re selling something to an audience; it’s a call to action. What’s more, duration is crucial. As a rule, advertising time gets sold in blocks of 15 seconds and advertisers usually buy 30 seconds. (15 seconds is just too short to get the message across articulately enough, and 60 seconds — apart from often being brutally expensive — can get a bit longwinded for today’s instant-gratification-oriented consumer).
So how long is 30 seconds for the professional voice actors you’ll find on the Voice123 platform?
- About 75 words at a normal pace,
- 85 words at a fast pace, and
- 65 words at a slow pace.
It would, therefore, be a good idea to use these numbers as a guide when scriptwriting. A script that’s too long and forces a voice actor to race through it is invariably self-defeating. The reason is obvious: the clarity of your messaging suffers — especially if the advertisement needs to contain email addresses or phone numbers.
Also keep in mind is that the numbers listed above refer to straight, ‘wall-to-wall’ reads without pauses or breaths. Such reads are common practice in the ad-production environment, because — as any producer/director will tell you — by removing breaths you get to gain a few seconds and can squeeze in more info as a result). Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing!
Adding pauses & breaths
Something less-experienced clients seem more inclined to forget is that — just as whitespace makes text more readable both onscreen and on a page — pauses can make a voice over much more listenable. Pauses aid comprehension. Furthermore, commercial reads frequently need to include sound effects, a musical underscore, or a ‘jingle’. To incorporate these, several seconds of scripted copy may need to be forfeited. Rather prepare a script that accommodates all the required brand elements (in terms of timing) beforehand.
All too often one hears accounts from bemused voice actors about chunks of text that ended up having to be removed from a final script so the read could remain within its allotted timeframe without becoming incomprehensible rapid-fire.
Like we’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s practically a prerequisite to ‘soundcheck’ a script by reading it out loud and timing it properly yourself before submitting it to a voice actor. Otherwise, chaos and confusion easily result.
Are you scriptwriting for TV, an online video streaming site, or radio? Scripts written for radio need to be pretty descriptive because your audience may need to ‘see’ with their ears. When written to accompany a video, scripts can be somewhat more supportive because their purpose is to embellish rather than circumscribe. There are exceptions to very rule, though, due to the fact that creative, off-the-wall thinking can be rewarding. So let your subject matter and creativity guide you above all else!
Before you start writing, it will certainly help if you ask yourself these questions so you can better focus your efforts:
- What do you want to say?
- Why do you want to say it?
- How do you want to say it?
- Who are you saying it to?
Here are some (fictitious) commercial script examples — same product, different durations: 60″, 30″, 15″
Client: National Health & Beverage
Target market: Millennial
Actor Gender/Age: Any/Young adult
Duration: 60 sec
Description: New health beverage for young adults
Direction notes: Younger adult. First of all, upbeat and enthusiastic. Not too salesy. Must seem like the voice actor is in conversation with a good friend and is speaking as if revealing a trade secret, so presentation can be slightly whispery in places. Normal pace, please.
Hey — are you having one of those typical days at work? Are you starting to feel a little run-down? Are you considering something of a pick-me-up like your usual cup of coffee?
Well, before you head off to the kitchen or cafeteria, I’d like to try and change your mind. Let me tell you about an awesome new soft drink that’s a whole lot better for you than your daily dose of caffeine. I’ve started drinking it just before I head out and hit the road. It’s called Fizz-Up!
It’s a new fortified fruit juice and it’s available in all your favorite flavors. It contains no preservatives, artificial flavorants, and is sugar-free. It has all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep you going all day. It’ll tickle your fancy, sharpen your skills, and strengthen your bones. Fizz-Up! And it’s available everywhere. Go grab a can right now!
Duration: 30 sec
Hey — are you feeling a little run-down?
Then let me tell you about an awesome new soft drink I’ve started drinking before I head out. It’s called Fizz-Up!
It’s a fortified fruit juice in all your favorite flavors; no preservatives and sugar-free. All the vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep you going all day. It’ll tickle your fancy, sharpen your skills, and strengthen your bones. Fizz-Up! And it’s available everywhere now!
Duration: 15 sec
Feeling run-down? Fizz-Up is a new fruit juice in all your favorite flavors. No preservatives and sugar-free. All the vitamins and minerals your body needs. It’ll sharpen your skills and strengthen your bones. Fizz-Up! Grab some now!
In each of the sample commercial scripts above, the core message and call to action remain intact. Likewise, the tagline ‘sharpen your skills and strengthen your bones’ gets maintained throughout so it can become an identifiable catchphrase that’s associated with the brand.
Going forward, you’ll probably find it worth your while to create a commercial script template so you can speed up the creative process.
And finally, we wish you every success with your scriptwriting!