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A clip from the US telephone company AT&T (1926)

A commercial is a short film or audio clip used to promote a product , brand, or service . It is mostly designed by advertising agencies on behalf of a brand owner or product provider. It is produced by specialized commercial film production companies and is mainly used on television and radio , increasingly also on the Internet and to a small extent also in the cinema . A commercial is primarily intended to increase sales of the advertised product or increase product confidence. The advertising intent connects the commercial with the image film and other, longer advertising film formats. Its dramaturgical and audiovisual means are as varied and complex as the current state of international film production allows.

Media and economic framework

The costs to be borne by the client for advertising spots are made up of three factors: development costs, which are largely incurred by the advertising agency, production costs for production in the narrower sense, which the production company takes over, and broadcasting or switching costs, which are incurred by the television stations and website operators or cinemas that broadcast the spot. The respective media used have specific effects on the design and implementation of the spots.


watch TV

According to information from the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAW), commercials with a total length of 1.79 million minutes or 1,243 days were broadcast on German television in 2011 . The average length of a commercial was 30 seconds. The turnover of the television stations with the sale of advertising time amounted to 3.981 billion euros, with which the television stations recorded the most advertising income of all media, around 20% of the net advertising income in total.

So commercials are the most used for television advertising . In Germany, private television broadcasters finance themselves mainly through the advertising revenues generated in this way. The public broadcasters finance themselves through fees, but are also allowed to sell a limited amount of advertising time and thus generate additional income.

The use of commercials on television is billed in seconds. The operating costs are many times the production costs. This results in a general interest on the part of the client: A spot should generate as much positive attention as possible in the shortest possible time (broadcast). Research into effects has also shown that the effectiveness of TV spots only grows disproportionately with increasing length. This fundamental customer interest, given by the medium and its economic and psychological effects, shapes the conception and implementation of commercials down to the smallest detail.

The interruption of a program by commercials leads to "wandering movements", the so-called audience flow : over 50% of TV viewers switch or switch off as soon as advertising comes; only 9% do not change programs by zapping . To improve audience flow , the broadcasters have switched to replacing the hinge advertising blocks (an advertising block between an ending and a beginning new program; often as "countdown advertising") almost completely with interruption advertising (advertising block during a program).


Advertising on the Internet , especially on the WWW , is a massively expanding market. In 2011, according to the ZAW, € 990 million or around a quarter of television sales were spent on "online offers", although it is not possible to track what proportion of this is accounted for by commercials. The framework conditions differ fundamentally from those of television use. A crucial difference is that advertising times on the Internet are not billed in seconds, so that the commercial pressure on advertisers to produce the shortest possible formats plays a much smaller role.

Commercials that have been produced for use in television or cinema are often reused on the Internet. Because of the lack of pressure per second for prices, longer versions of the original TV spots are often made for the Internet. In addition, separate audiovisual formats are created that are geared to specific uses on the Internet, such as interactive formats in which the user can help shape the course of the commercial.

movie theater

Comparatively little is spent on the use of advertising in the cinema. The Central Association of the German Advertising Industry records the expenditures for 13 different media, of which the cinema ranks only last in 2011 with advertising sales of 85 million euros. Theatrical sales do not even make up 1% of total advertising sales; almost 50 times as much was spent on television advertising. Unlike private television, however, because of the income from admission and catering, the cinemas are not 100% dependent on advertising income.

Cinema advertising is shown in cinemas before the main film. It differs from television advertising in terms of length - cinema advertising is usually longer than television advertising - and in terms of content: cinema advertising is conceptually more entertaining and action-oriented, because the medium and viewing habits of a cinema consumer demand more "movie-like" commercials.

Special forms


A viral is a commercial that is specially produced for the Internet. Its conception is based on the fact that the users distribute the film themselves because they like it. Accordingly, a viral often intentionally violates the formal and content-related conventions of television and cinema advertising in order to achieve a higher level of attention.

DRTV spots

Classic spots advertise a product or a brand, but primarily serve to create an image, not to sell directly. DRTV spots (short for “Direct Response Television”), on the other hand, use a phone number or Internet address that is displayed to ensure that the viewer acquires the product advertised immediately.

Social spot

The social spot is a commercial that is not used to increase sales of a brand or a product, but instead advertises certain social changes, for example by calling for action against xenophobia .

Election commercial

The election advert solicits votes for certain parties or candidates before elections.

Spec spot

A spec spot (from English on spec = 'on good luck') is not made for a real advertising use. Rather, it should show potential clients the artistry of a newcomer to directing in this field, who cannot yet prove this with enough real assignments.


Logomorphing describes the transformation of a TV logo into another object. This object is then part of the following commercial. The logo morphing is intended to create a harmonious transition from the program to the advertising . By combining the well-known logo with the commercial, it is hoped that the positive characteristics of the station (or the program) will be transferred to the advertising object. This advertising format has so far not been widespread in the German TV region. Only a few stations, including Sat.1 and VOX , have used logo morphing so far. Logo morphing is especially useful when popular broadcast formats are interrupted.


The course of a commercial film production can be described in four project phases: conception, pre-production , shooting and post-production .


In the conception phase, an advertising agency usually develops different advertising spot ideas as part of an overall strategy and presents them to its customer, the advertising company. After deciding on an idea, the agency develops a storyboard and has it approved by the customer. She then prepares a briefing and puts out a pitch , in which three to five advertising film production companies usually apply for the contract to implement the commercial. The production companies calculate their costs, prepare an offer and, in particular, suggest directors for the implementation. They arrange telephone conferences or meetings with the agency and work with the director to develop a director's interpretation of the agency's specifications. At the end, the agency presents an agency recommendation and the customer decides to implement it with a director and the associated production company.


Pre-production begins with the order to the production company and includes all processes that can also be found in the feature film , such as casting , location search , team and technology booking, but usually in a much shorter time. The pre-production ends in a so-called “PPM”, a pre-production meeting , in which the agency and production company present the complete status of their preparation to the customer and have it approved shortly before shooting.


Due to the budget, filming for a German commercial only takes a few days. Otherwise they hardly differ from those of a feature film. The advertising agency and customer are present during the shoot to monitor compliance with the mandated specifications.


Post-production only differs from that of a feature film in the time factor. In the case of television advertising, it ends after the agency and customer have accepted and approved the final commercial with the production of a master, which is sent as a so-called "broadcast tape" to the individual TV stations or uploaded digitally to a server (television commercial, internet commercial) , or the production of - digital or analog - cinema copies (cinema commercial).

Advertising guidelines for television advertising in Germany

According to German advertising guidelines, classic and DRTV spots can be a maximum of 89 seconds. Longer commercials are considered permanent commercials or infomercials and must be marked as promotional or sales broadcast throughout their term. The following regulations apply in Germany:

  • A maximum of 12 minutes (= 20%) of commercial advertising per hour
  • Maximum 15% spot advertising per day
  • Maximum of 20% commercial advertising + DRTV spots per day
  • A maximum of 3 hours of infomercials per day

The public broadcasters are subject to different, stricter conditions. These are regulated in the State Broadcasting Treaty.


  • Jürgen Agde: Shimmering promises. History of German advertising films in the cinema since 1897. Das Neue Berlin , Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-360-00865-0 .
  • Albert Heiser : Stay tuned. Conception, production and post-production of commercials, films and virals. Creative Game Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-9809718-2-9 .
  • Albert Heiser: The script for the script, narrative strategies for commercials, films and virals. Creative Game Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-9809718-8-1 .
  • Christian Henze: Speaking of commercials. The commercial use of the imagination. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Konstanz 2005, ISBN 3-89669-428-6 ( Praxis Film 17).
  • James Monaco: Understanding Film. Art, technology, language, history and theory of film and the media. With an introduction to multimedia. 5th edition, revised and expanded new edition. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag , Reinbek bei Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-499-60657-7 ( rororo. Rororo non-fiction book. Rororo film 60657).
  • Joachim Schätz: The economy of details. Austria's industrial and advertising films between rationalization and contingency (1915-1965). edition text + kritik, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-86916-740-4 .
  • Thomas Schierl: From commercials to interactive advertising dialogs. About the changes in advertising television. von Halem, Cologne 1997, ISBN 3-931606-25-2 ( Forum Neue Medien 1).
  • Hans-Gerd Schmidt, Bernd Wiesener (Ed.): Commercials. Mirror of the times. Chronicle of everyday life. Publishing house for regional history , Bielefeld 2002, ISBN 3-89534-432-X ( strips 2).
  • Siegfried J. Schmidt , Brigitte Spieß: History of television advertising in the Federal Republic of Germany. A sketch. In: Helmut Kreuzer (Ed.): History of television in the Federal Republic of Germany. Volume 4: Hans-Dieter Erlinger, Hans-Friedrich Foltin (Ed.): Entertainment, advertising and target group programs. Fink , Munich 1994, ISBN 3-7705-2803-4 , pp. 187-242.
  • Hermann Vaske: Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants. Hermann Vaske's conversations with the best in advertising. Die Gestalten Verlag , Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-931126-67-6 , interviews with international greats in advertising and advertising film.
  • Eva Lia Wyss: Commercial as TV text. Mimicry, adaptation and cultural variation. Max Niemeyer Verlag , Tübingen 1998, ISBN 3-484-34049-5 ( Media in research and teaching. Series A: 49), (At the same time: Zurich, Univ., Diss., 1997).
  • Central Committee of the Advertising Industry (Hrsg.): Yearbook of German advertising. ISSN  1616-2528 (ongoing).

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Commercial  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c
  2. Heiser, p. 21 ff.
  3. Henze, page 135
  4. Tobias Gereth / Björn Bedey, Age Power 2010: Successful Best-Ager-Marketing , 2006, p. 134
  5. Kai Wengenroth, New Forms of Revenue in Television , 2004, p. 58
  6. Heiser, p. 26 ff.
  7. Henze, p. 45
  10. Henze, p. 46 ff.
  11. Henze, p. 110 ff.
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