Make Professional Quality Ads on a Shoestring

These days, Hollywood budgets are enough to make your head explode: The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise racked up cost on the order of $400 Million. It wasn’t even a good movie. (If you’re reading this, Keira Knightley, I’m sorry and I’ll still marry you). The 137 minute run-time means that every single second of footage in the film cost almost $50,000 to produce. And yet it gets worse; Superbowl ads cost up to an eye-watering $100,000 per second to produce. This doubles or triples when you factor the cost of buying the ad slot.

If you’re reading this, you don’t have that kind of money.

So, how can you advertise your product on a shoestring? This article will discuss two ways: The Talking Head Style, and The Screencast Style.

The Talking Head Advert.
You’ve seen them. The friendly, well spoken CEO of the startup who compete to sell the same product as you, chatting to the camera. The obvious advantage here is that these ads are essentially free to produce, and can be surprisingly effective.

I don’t recommend hiring Johnny Depp to do your ad. Unless your software is used for piracy.


There are a few golden rules to keep in mind with this advertisement style:

1. Have a script, but don’t stick to it like glue
On the one hand, you don’t want to stand there babbling like an idiot. On the other, there’s nothing worse than robotically reciting your notes in a deliberate monotone. You want to know your talking points, but you need to be relaxed enough speaking off the cuff. Viewers can tell if your talking head seems forced, and they’ll find it off-putting.

2. Don’t be Boring!
Why not open with a joke? The advantage of the talking head style is that you get the opportunity to make a human connection – don’t squander that opportunity. If you don’t like being in front of the camera, it’s a good bet that someone in your team nurtures an almost-forgotten dream of starring in action movies. They’ll jump at this chance to shine in front of the camera!

3. Choose Your Location
Got a beautiful office? Perfect! But if (like yours truly) you thrive on a shoestring budget, you might have to get more creative. But be warned – your local mega-corporation tend to be, like, really uncool about you filming ads by the stunning fountain in their HQ.

Not pictured: The security guy seconds away from tackling the photographer.

4. Keep it Short
This is a more of a golden rule for advertising in general. We live in an attention economy – every single second counts. Your talking head ad should only cover the bare essentials, because viewers will click away at the first opportunity.

5. Keep the Ambient Noise Low
Background chatter, traffic, running water, dogs barking, wind, the list of sources of background audio is near endless. And sadly, the presence of these will destroy your brand’s credibility. Viewers are conditioned to associate poor audio background sounds with home-video. Bad audio makes your ad sound like it was made on a whim, and that will make your brand seem bush-league and untrustworthy. Pick a quiet location, and borrow a microphone off one of your musician friends.

The Screencast Advert

This works if you’re selling a software product. Got a gorgeous interface you can’t wait to show off? Got a software tool that works in a key way? If the key selling point of your business is something about your software, this advert is a good way to go. One key benefit is that you can usually find decent Screencasting software for cheap or free, not to mention there’s no chance of you having to go outside to get your footage.

1. Record your audio first.
If you’re including a voiceover in this ad, you should write and record it before you capture your screen footage. Your audio establishes the information your ad gets across – you can more easily tailor your footage to your script than vice versa. Use a high quality microphone – remember your musician friend from before?

2. Be enthusiastic.
Your delivered voiceover is your chance to make a human connection – Don’t squander it with the dreaded monotone. Instead, let your passion for your product out. You know in your heart why your product is special, so let all that passion inform your speaking. You’ll sound confident, relaxed and enthusiastic.

3. Use background music.
Having your voice over the silence will sound awkward and even bushleague. Thankfully, you can download royalty free music and add it to your advert in no time. I recommend acoustic guitar music – the ones you hear in ads for prescription drugs tend to pull excellent double duty advertising digital services.

4. Keep it short!
No need to waste words – see above 😉

5. Time Stretch
Let’s say you’re demonstrating how a product feature works – you’ve captured the cursor clicking the relevant buttons, or whatever the case may be. The problem is, the voiceover only dwells on this feature for two seconds, while the footage drags on for six. What to do? Leave a vocal gaps before talking about the next feature? Record more audio to pad it out? Let the script and the footage drift out of sync? No, no, and no! Any halfway respectable video editor will have a time stretch feature – you can select the footage of the screencast and speed it up until it fits with the voiceover. Doing this with other kinds of footage is trickier; if it’s something you shot with a camera in the real world, the sped up movements will look unnatural. But when the only visual is the interior of your software, maybe with a cursor moving around, it will look great at any speed you want.

6. Set your screen recording software up correctly.
OSS Studio is a free one I recommend. It’s best feature is the YouTube video of a guy telling you exactly which settings to put on the program to get high quality, high definition output. Very, very important if you want to avoid the ‘made with a potato’ look.


Best €80 I ever spent.



A lot of the concepts here apply to both genres of advert: you want to sound professional, but also enthusiastic, human and fun. You want to cover your key selling points, but you don’t want it a second longer than it needs to be. And you don’t want to spend a penny if you can avoid it. At the bare minimum, you’ll need:

  1. A computer that can edit video. If you don’t have a powerful computer, you probably shouldn’t be running a business.
  2. Access to a decent microphone.
  3. Access to a decent camera (smartphone cameras are better than most people realise!)
  4. A team member who likes the sound of their own voice.
  5. The desire to succeed!


And, of course, the final golden rule of all ads. You forget this one, and you’re better off not bothering wasting the €17 and 9 hours making your ads in the first place. The goldenest rule of all? Track. Your. Campaign. Use UTMs to keep track of how every aspect of your ads are performing. Without that info, you’ll never know your ROI. If you don’t know what UTMs are, then I got to you just in time