Before we dive into our debate, let’s start with a brief story about legal marketer, Jacob Sanders. Before Sanders became co-host and producer for the very popular LAWsome podcast, he served as a marketing director for a law firm in Denver. When tasked with coming up with a video to address the issue of distracted driving in the summer of 2017, he decided to take a humorous approach. This was the final product.
Unfortunately for Sanders, the animation was a hard-sell with the firm’s shareholders, who failed to see the distinct impact the project might have on their brand. However, the ad has since received over 70,000 views on YouTube, and has garnered praise from former clients of the firm, as evidenced by a comment from the video below.
So who was ultimately right in this situation, Sanders or the shareholders? Does trying to be funny actually work when it comes to legal marketing? That’s the question we’ll look to answer in this month’s edition of “Let’s Debate Legal Marketing”.
The Case For Using Humor
Comedy has been a top tool in the marketer’s arsenal for years. Make a customer laugh, and they’ll typically find you to be more endearing, or at the very least more memorable. With this being the case, injecting humor into your marketing campaigns should be a no-brainer, right?
Here are thoughts from a few experienced voices.
Mike Magistro, Marketing Manager at the Slocum Firm
“Comedy makes a firm stand out and shows how relaxed attorneys can be. It breaks the stereotypical mold of the stuffy, older man who only cares about money.”
Steven Long, Co-Founder of Precision Legal Marketing
“Any time an attorney can inject either the firm’s personality, or their personality into a campaign, it becomes instantly more memorable. The risks associated shouldn’t be ignored, but they should be mitigated with careful planning. You should plan any ad campaign whether it be video, digital or traditional to appeal to your demographic. Sometimes that demographic can really be almost anyone. As an example, take this video. This attorney has been injecting his humor into his TV campaigns for decades:
I suppose an argument could be raised that these would turn off some conservative type folks and probably make him appear as though he is less credible. But, in alienating himself from that portion of his geographic demography, he is endearing himself even closer to others within the same. And THAT should be your goal, and what you plan to. I had a client, The Mandel Law Firm, bring their dog into the video shoot and sit them at the conference table proclaiming the dog was ‘Attorney at Paw’ and I never heard a negative thing about it. In fact, it was quite the successful facebook campaign for the firm.
But, one of the strangest and pure laughing out loud funny I have ever seen injected into a law firm marketing campaign is none other than the ‘Texas Law Hawk’.
With close to a million views on this one video, I would say he brought the “funny.”
“Humor isn’t great because it’s just funny, or true, or stupid, or false – humor works because it’s an EMOTION. Emotions are powerful communication devices in advertising because they cause a reaction to take place in the audience’s minds. When I say ‘knock, knock?’ – your brain instantly plays along and says, ‘who’s there?’ That is the true power of emotions and humor in advertising; the connections that you can make INSIDE SOMEONE ELSE’S HEAD. Once you’re there, inside their heads, it’ll be way easier to communicate your brand message, and it’s more likely to stay there.”
The Case For Avoiding Humor
When it comes to marketing for legal practices, many are cautious to inject comedy into their advertising. Their hesitation is certainly understandable, as more often than not, attorneys are trying to attract consumers who are going through sensitive legal issues, and may not exactly be in a laughing mood. Not to mention, comedy isn’t as easy as it looks folks, and no one wants to be the hack lawyer that tries hard to be cheeky and fails.
Here are some more expert opinions on the issue.
Attorney Gerry Oginski in his “Let’s Talk Legal Marketing” feature last December on using comedy in marketing videos
“Your ideal consumer doesn’t want to be entertained. There are plenty of entertaining kitten and puppy videos online to distract them forever. Instead, they want answers. They’re searching for answers. They don’t know an attorney who can help them. They don’t know someone who can recommend a trusted attorney. So they go online to search for answers. If you start telling jokes or funny stories, you will fail to gain their respect and their trust which means they will never call you.”
For those looking for an example of Oginski’s vlog work, check out the video below.
He’s made over 3,000 informative videos like this for his firm, and has found that talking viewers through legal problems is a great way to showcase expertise and win over new clients.
Paul Julius, Sanders’ co-host on the LAWsome podcast
“It really depends on how it’s done, because I have seen legal advertising that was attempting humor but ended up becoming the joke. Humor is a powerful and difficult tool to work with for any advertiser in any category, because if it misses the mark it’s immediately obvious.”
“I think what most attorneys in general have to understand is that it’s okay to be yourself. That said, if you aren’t that funny, don’t try to be funny. It will come off as contrived.”
So What Should Lawyers Do?
Deciding whether or not to pursue a funny idea in a legal marketing campaign can be a really difficult decision, especially for growing firms that have limited marketing budgets to play with, and can’t afford to be taking any significant hits to their reputation. Lawyers still looking to establish their online footprint. may not want a cheesy YouTube video to be one of the first things that appears in a search result for their firm.
On the other hand, a hilarious video, like the one created by Sanders, can garner a lot of positive attention for a firm, and be an excellent gateway towards people exploring a practice’s website and other web content. Notice that Sanders’ former disapproving employers never got around to taking the video he made down. Hmm…
If your firm thinks it truly has struck comedy gold, and developed an advertisement that will really resonate with potential clients, you’ll want to make sure it passes these three tests:
Test #1: Will people think this ad is actually funny?
This test has a tendency to create awkwardness, especially when the person that crafted the idea for the ad is supremely confident in their comedic talents. The simple fact is that something one person or a small group of co-workers find funny, might not be accepted as funny by the large majority of customers you’re trying to reach. So before launching an ad, you’ll want to show it to as many test audiences as you possibly can, and obtain as much feedback as possible.
“To be sure, you’ll want to include the opinion of people other than your co-workers and mother,” Sanders said. “If humor is natural to you, then applying it for your law firm won’t be that difficult, although I would be sure to run any of your ‘funny’ ideas by an audience of diverse backgrounds. What’s funny in the locker room or late at night might not fly in the public arena so be sure to check your joke ego at the door.”
Test #2: Will this ad embarrass the firm?
Will the audience be laughing with you or at you? That’s another question lawyers must ask before debuting a new ad. Making an emotional connection is nice and all, but you don’t want that emotion to be pity or disgust. Remember, the ultimate goal is still to get the client to want to hire your firm to handle their important legal matters.
“For legal marketing campaigns, I think a little humor is a good thing, but I would focus on subtle, clever, and self aware (humor) – less is more, or you will become the equivalent of the inflatable arm man in front of a car wash,” Julius said.
Test #3: Is this ad ultimately addressing an important issue, and giving people reason to use your firm?
Remember that humor is just a device you’re using to help get an advertising message across, not the message itself. If your ad makes the viewer laugh, but ultimately doesn’t lead them anywhere, you’ve failed. As silly as Sanders’ ad at the beginning of this piece was, it’s mission was clear. Create awareness about distracted driving, an issue that was clearly important to the firm.
“Laughter is a door opener, but you still have to write compelling ad copy that’s aligned with your business goals to really experience the benefit of humor in advertising,” Sanders said. “Without emotional resonance, humor included, any advertising your law firm puts out, no matter how logical, salesy, concise, will fall on deaf ears.”