Everything You Need to Know About Spec Ads

Whether you’re a freelance content creator or seasoned agency veteran, you’ll probably have to make a spec ad at some point. But what are spec ads, and why are they so important?

Everything You Need to Know About Spec Ads

Whether you’re a freelance content creator or seasoned agency veteran, you’ll probably have to make a spec ad at some point. But what are spec ads, and why are they so important?

What are spec ads?

‘Spec ad’ is a term that comes from the advertising industry. It’s also known as a spec commercial, and is speculative – meaning it’s not a real advert. It’s not been commissioned, and may never see the light of day. It’s a sample of your work, aiming to show off your style and talent.

As part of your portfolio or demo reel, you’d create a spec ad if you were applying to win a job, contract, or even just a meeting. Say you were trying to get some work with Nike (dream big, right?!), then you’d shoot a Nike spec ad and pitch it to them.

Here’s a spec ad example from Nike. (Sorry to dash your hopes, but Nike usually works directly with agencies and production companies rather than freelancers.)

Traditionally, spec ads were delivered in print. However, given how accessible filmmaking is nowadays, spec commercials are often submitted as actual video files.

Are spec commercials worth it?

Yes and no. A spec ad doesn’t guarantee a job or contract, so you might end up with a fully formed ad and nowhere to take it. That sucks, but at the end of the day, it’s like a job application: you put the time in and hope it pays off, but it’s never 100%. Still, you can use several spec ads as examples of your work further down the line; if you haven’t won any work, it doesn’t mean you can’t use your spec commercial in a demo reel when you apply for other jobs.

How to shoot a spec ad

Spec commercials show you’re serious about the brand or company you want to work for, and are a great way to hone your editing skills outside of your own projects. Working with a specific company in mind shows you’re a diverse content creator, with more strings to your bow than just your personal brand.

If you want to make an impact in your spec ad, you’ll need some music to back it up. At Epidemic Sound, we’ve got more than 40,000 royalty-free tracks that you can organize by length, BPM, mood, theme, and vocals. Whether you’re doing that Nike spec ad, a Tesla spec ad, or a spec commercial for a local business, we’ve got everything you need. Check out our catalog below!

How do you shoot a spec ad?

There are plenty of ways to shoot a spec ad, but if you’re trying out your first, here are a few rules to stick by.

Create a shortlist of brands

Your spec commercial needs to be for someone, so jot down a shortlist of brands you’d like to target. Sure, you can create a Nike spec ad if you really want, but realistically, target small-to-medium-sized businesses if you’re starting out.

Nike spec ad

Film and edit your spec ad

Ensure you’ve prepared a tight shot list and script breakdown, and have a crew to actually film your spec ad. Naturally, this all depends on your budget, but you need it to look good. Ideally, you’d need a gaffer for lighting, your actors, a producer, and people to handle sound. Again, this depends on what you can do yourself. If you’re interested in video editing, it might be worth reading our guide on the best video editing apps and software.

Keep it short, sweet, and memorable

Unless you’ve set your sights on a super niche brand, choose a well-known name for your spec ad. Keep it under a minute and sell your idea! If you have a unique take on a massive brand, then that shows just how different you are – you’ve brought new life to an old, established idea.

Forget the tagline

Sure, the tagline is important. But if you come up with the tagline first and try to cram everything into it, you might limit yourself. Think about what the brand means to its audience, what kind of ads they usually commission, and how you can fit into that. Your spec ad doesn’t even have to be a wholly original idea – loads of spec commercials are new spins on adverts that already exist.

Avoid anything too risqué

Adult jokes and innuendo are funny, but there’s a time and a place. What might work for one brand might be an instant no for another, so save yourself the headache and avoid any innuendo, winks, or nudges. It’s not worth it!

Send your spec ad!

If you want to sell your spec ad directly, contact the company you’re after with a short email. It needs to cover who you are, your asking price, details on the film’s rights, and why you made the spec commercial.

If you’re showcasing the spec ad as part of a broader portfolio or demo reel, you can use it to help clinch meetings, secure pitches, and open up work opportunities later down the line.

The purpose of a spec ad is to showcase your eye – and ear – for detail. You don’t have to feel limited when it comes to music. Our catalog is royalty-free and totally safe to us if you’re an active Epidemic Sound subscriber, as we own all the financial rights to every track. Why not save yourself the stress and give it a try for 30 days?

Are you a video editor or filmmaker? Whether you’re an absolute master or just a beginner, discover what Epidemic Sound has to offer on our Epidemic Sound for Filmmaking page. Oh, and if you’re looking for some music for video editing, check out our dedicated page.

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