Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Criminal Defense Advertising: The Benefits and Detriments of a Super Bowl Commercial

The Super Bowl draws approximately 150 million viewers, making it the most watched program on American television each year.  Due to this expansive viewership, a 30-second national advertisement can cost as much as $4 million.  Many large companies, like Budweiser and T-Mobile, run more than one commercial in an effort to reach as many viewers as possible. However, not all ads that run during the Super Bowl are funded by multimillion-dollar corporations.  Many time slots are filled by local companies looking to advertise regionally without the extreme costs of a national airing.

Kim & LaVoy, S.C., a Wisconsin- based criminal defense firm, ran a 30-second commercial at the tail-end of the 2014 Halftime show (7:28 p.m. Central time).  Although the ad only aired locally, it is likely that it cost the firm roughly $300,000 The five attorney firm handles charges ranging from domestic violence to traffic violations, it specializes in drunk-driving cases.  Similar to Kim & LaVoy’s other commercials, this ad is clean-cut, well-packaged, and straight-forward.  The advertisement features images of individuals pondering presumably serious problems interspersed with messages on a dark screen.  The viewer sees one woman boxing, while the other raises her arms in triumph as the sun rises.  Incongruent metaphors asides, the advertisement, through the use of the well-placed taglines and imagery, gets its message across perfectly: “it’s not our mistakes that define us; it’s how we respond to them.”  Attorneys Julius Kim and Jonathan LaVoy make an appearance in the commercial as well; they are seen talking to each other immediately prior to the lines “recognized among Wisconsin’s best in drunk-driving and criminal defense.”  The commercial ends with Kim & LaVoy’s slogan, “Your Best Defense,” a line that lands especially well within the context of the Super Bowl.

One of the most striking aspects of the commercial is that there is no voice-over or direct dialogue from either attorney.  The entire commercial runs with Coldplay-esque music overlaying the generally blue-toned images and taglines.  Many legal advertisements feature attorneys sharing their message directly to the camera, a technique that is surely born out of the desire to give the ads a personal touch.  By looking into the camera, the attorney can appear to connect with the viewer and speak directly to them.  While personal connection is something for firms to aspire to, these techniques tend to give the commercial an amateur feel.  Kim & LaVoy’s commercials are sleek and give the impression of high-quality filming.  Many firms may not be able to afford this level of filming and editing, because such enterprises take a lot of time and money.  However, even other legal advertisements of a similar quality lose credibility when they feature the attorney addressing the audience directly.  

Julius Kim and Jonathan LaVoy are not the only lawyers to advertise during the Super Bowl this year.  Georgia-based personal injury lawyer Jamie Casino funded and starred in an infamous two minute commercial chronicling his search for justice following the death of his brother.  Casino’s commercial, though campy and even absurd at times, gained national recognition after it went viral on social media after its airtime.  Casino has reportedly run local Super Bowl ads before, though these previous commercials were of a more mundane variety.

While Casino makes his motive clear, Kim & LaVoy’s intent is slightly less apparent.  The focus of the ad on drunk driving raises questions about its placement amongst other ads that run during the Super Bowl.  There are numerous beer commercials, all with the reminder to “Drink Responsibly,” and the majority of viewers consume beer.  With this in mind, does it matter that Kim & LaVoy chose to advertise during the Super Bowl, knowing that the majority of viewers consume alcohol at one point or another?  This is not to assume that everyone that consumes alcohol drinks and drives, or that Kim & LaVoy were being sinisterly opportunistic.  Viewers during normal television time consume alcohol as well.  It is highly more likely that the firm chose to advertise during the Super Bowl because of the increased viewership, than because of any ulterior motive to target alcohol consumers specifically.  The main theme behind Kim & LaVoy’s advertisements is that everyone makes mistakes and those mistakes need to be handled properly.

Kim & LaVoy’s ad seemed well received, at least on the firm’s Facebook page, and the ad was decidedly tasteful.  However, the decision to advertise for drunk driving during the Super Bowl does raise the question of when and where is it tasteful and appropriate to advertise a criminal defense firm.  Criminal defense lawyers have a somewhat controversial reputation in the public eye, possibly perpetuated by the belief that they represent “villains,” as Casino notes in his commercial.  The advertising market is constantly changing; options like Google AdWord have lost their viability and it is becoming more difficult to ensure that advertising is being viewed by those who need criminal defense advice the most.  Criminal defense firms find themselves stuck between trying to stay competitive as a business in an increasingly crowded field, while maintaining a level of professional dignity.  

Though a Super Bowl spot may not be the most economical option, it was certainly an excellent way of ensuring that a large number of viewers are aware of Kim & LaVoy and the services they provide.  While it would be difficult for criminal defense firms to advertise directly at the source of their clientele base (such as at police stations or on alcoholic beverage containers), it is still possible for these firms to reach the correct audience.  Although it is more likely that someone seeking criminal defense services would search for firms on the Internet, advertisements on billboards and in newspapers can still be useful.  It would seem that as long as advertisers maintain a level of tastefulness in their ads, there are few limits to the ways in which they can reach their target audience.

Jacqueline Morley
Junior Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner