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Can Legal Marketing Be Both Funny and Effective?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 29, 2015 12:57 PM

If you've turned on a TV lately, you may have seen the new advertising campaign for Apartments.com. In the ads, comedian Jeff Goldblum plays a Steve Jobs-like, Silicon Valley guru.

In the first ad of the campaign, he stands in a black, futuristic void and spouts off meaningless buzzwords about paradigm shifting and thought leading. It's meant to be both a parody -- mocking the cult of Steve and the inanity of techno-futurism -- and legitimate praise for the website.

The ads are pretty funny, but they aren't the most informative; there's little beyond the viewer's curiosity that will drive them to Apartments.com instead of a competing listing site. They've got the faith of the company behind them, though, and are being backed by a $100 million campaign. Is there something for lawyers to emulate here? Can your marketing strategy be funny and effective?

Advertisers know that sex sells; so does a touch of wit and humor. But the legal profession has rarely been considered sexy -- at least not in the lite beer or Victoria's Secret way. Things like estate planning, malpractice, and criminal prosecution can be funny, but often not for the people who need a lawyer to deal with them. The kind of legal ads that make you laugh usually aren't aiming for humor. Should lawyers avoid these pitches, sticking instead with safer advertising techniques, like appeals to their good reputation or large, non-representative settlements?

Humor or Not, Make Sure Your Message is Central

Comedy in attorney advertising can be done well. Last year, we featured an online ad for a divorce attorney which made brilliant use of humor. The videos, hosted on YouTube, had titles such as "Our Honeymoon" and "Memories From Our Wedding." When played, they showed a mock "this video has been removed" message, followed by the attorneys' information and the tagline "Divorce happens." That's funny, and it conveys the information the firm wanted to express -- think of us when you think of divorce -- in an engaging way.

On the other hand, plenty of attempts at humor fall flat, letting the delivery destroy the message. One all-male firm sent out holiday cards with a cartoon depicting a woman bound to a car seat, her mouth covered, declaring "New seatbelt design: 45% less car accidents!" Not only is the image offensive to women, it conveys no clear message about the practice. Does the firm specialize in Poor Taste Law?

Messaging is what advertising and marketing is all about. Whether you use humor or not, conveying accurate, clear and relevant information about your business, be it law or apartment listings, should always be the focus of your ad. If you need help setting up your strategy, you can always talk to the fine folks at FindLaw lawyer marketing.

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