October 12, 2010

Bad Attorney Advertising, Part 1

Yesterday, I was musing about a lack of blogworthy subjects. After all, what can I say about the Nevada Senate race that hasn't been said elsewhere a million times already? No good options available there, but that ought to be obvious to the casual observer. But I should have simply had a bit more patience, because today, under the windshield wiper of my car out in the parking lot at court, the subject for not only a new post but a whole series of posts was literally given to me, for free.

I speak, of course, of bad attorney advertisements.

I found the flyer to the left on the windshield of my car this morning. Unless I've missed my guess, you should be able to click on the picture and see it at a much higher resolution. The flyer itself was on an 8½" by 11" sheet of glossy paper, printed on only one side.

I've altered the attorney's name and telephone number. I found a font that is sort of like the one used in the ad but I frankly didn't dedicate a lot of effort to that part of this project, so my two alterations are a little darker than the scan, the font isn't exactly right, and is just a little bit smaller. This should be obvious to the casual observer, once you find the alterations I made.

Which is my very first problem with the advertisement.  You've really got to hunt to find the attorney's name and telephone number. There is no doubt that the advertisement is for a divorce lawyer.  What is that lawyer's name?  Assuming that I'm favorably impressed by the advertisement and want to hire this lawyer to handle my divorce, how do I get a hold of that lawyer?  The lawyer's name appears in the smallest size font used in the entire advertisement, at the very bottom of the page.  The lawyer's telephone number is nearly buried underneath stacks of visually oppressive block text.

Which is the second problem.  There are upper- and lower-case letters for a reason.  USING ALL CAPITAL BOLDFACED LETTERS IS LIKE SHOUTING and when you emphasize everything, the result is that nothing is emphasized.  The use of all-capital letters, and the clunky, blocky font gets in the way of the message, which ought to be "Hey, I'm a lawyer who can help you with your divorce." Instead, the ad says "I'M A LAWYER WHO CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR DIVORCE!" and that suggests some rather disagreeable things about the lawyer's personality. This is only underlined by the central picture (more about that below).

My scan of the flyer is maybe a little blockier than the print, but not much.  The spacing of the fonts is badly-proportioned, and in the central, most important word ("DIVORCE") the spacing is so obviously over-wide that it is distracting.  Since my suspicion is that "Arthur Dent" designed the advertisement himself, I would suggest that he take some time to learn about why typography is important for lawyers and how to use typography advantageously so as to make documents with at least a modicum of care for the visual effect of the end product. A similar typographical disaster is the fact that every word of text on the advertisement is centered.  Some use of centering is good, too much and it looks like you don't understand how to use the "left-align" button on your word processor in addition to being indifferent about how you use your CAPS LOCK key.

The graphic elements of the ad have five parts -- the two pink trapezoids, the two blue trapezoids, and the photograph in the middle.  I like the photograph in the middle.  It is emotionally compelling, accurately describes the need for the service being offered, and it attracts the eye.  It's a shame that this nice photograph is surrounded by such primitive and ineffective graphic elements as the trapezoids.  They are at once so bright on the glossy paper as to hurt the viewer's retinas but also so dark as to create a low contrast with the black text of the advertisement.

On glossy paper, and viewed in the sun (as I first saw the flyer) the low contrast is much more dramatic than it looks in the scan (or the shade). Probably the glossy paper was the only format available that could transmit the clarity of the photograph -- I like the detail of the muscles straining on the man's neck especially -- so maybe "Arthur Dent" was stuck with that kind of medium instead of one that was both more affordable and easier to read.

Now, I've already spilt a lot of words about the flyer but I haven't yet said anything about its content.

My response to the content is not completely negative, however.  I'll say this for "Arthur Dent" -- he has created a properly-focused advertisement. "Arthur Dent" is probably not above taking a personal injury case, an eviction, or a criminal matter.  But this advertisement is going for one kind of business and one kind of business only -- family law.  If you need to get divorced, Arthur Dent does that.  Too many lawyer advertisements -- I'll share another one soon -- contain laundry lists of different sorts of things the attorney either has done, is willing to do, or is at least willing to take your money in exchange for promising to do.  The result is confusion, at best.  "Arthur Dent" does not suffer that problem here -- there is no confusion at all about what "Arthur Dent" does for his clients.

However.  "Arthur" also seems to suffer from low self-esteem.  Despite "13 years experience" our man "Arthur" describes himself as "cheap" twice, "cut-rate" once, and "competent" once.  I would hope that with thirteen years of experience, "Arthur" is not just "competent" at the core segment of his practice.  By now, he should be pretty good.  And he should also be good enough to command a healthy fee.  When I showed this ad to The Wife, her first reaction was, "This guy must not be very good if he has to cut his fees like that."  When I began doing real estate law, I was quickly corrected the first time I referred to a piece of property as "cheap." Real estate isn't "cheap," it's "inexpensive." Similarly, legal services aren't "cheap," they're "affordable" or "reasonable."

So given that his assurances about his "cheap" rates also convey the impression that the quality of the services offered in exchange are not high, what does "Arthur Dent" say about the quality of work he does?  Well, in his left-hand trapezoid, he asks if the reader wants "excellent" representation.  Then in the bottom trapezoid, he promises to deliver "competent" representation.  You might say I'm selling "Arthur Dent" short here, but he's the one who's doing that. I'm just pointing out what he says about himself.

"Arthur" uses the word "representation" four times, and twice in a single sentence.  I suspect most people know what that word means, but it is a long word, and in graphic terms, it eats up acres of space on the flyer.  So do words like "experience," "understanding," "procedures," and "competent."  The"Want-Have-Get" triptych is also a parody of what people cynically think of the legal system in general, and divorces in particular.  The overuse of dollar signs and question marks also does not add luster.

And finally, "Arthur" chose to advertise in the form of a large-format glossy-paper flyer placed on peoples' cars outside a courthouse.  Now, if you want to create a favorable impression for your product or service with me, leaving a flyer for it on my car while I'm not there to monitor you tampering with it is a really counterproductive way to go about doing that. But maybe other people are less bothered by that sort of thing than I.

The medium and venue for the advertisement also suggests that Arthur Dent" is targeting people who are already in the middle of divorce proceedings and find themselves overwhelmed by the legal system without a lawyer.  That's certainly filling a need, but it doesn't seem like a particularly profitable market.  These are people who didn't get a lawyer when they first ventured in to court -- most likely because they didn't have enough money to hire one so they went on their own to do the best they could.  This dovetails with the ad's emphasis on "cheap" fees.  "Arthur Dent" is making a significant mistake here that has been underlined to me by experienced lawyers, marketing consultants, colleagues, and bitter experience -- any attorney can get all the work they want to do, and more, from clients who can't pay.

It's a hard enough time for family lawyers as it is.  Typically, attorney's fees in a middle-class divorce are paid for out of the liquidation of the former family house.  With so many homes upside-down these days, a lot of people who would otherwise get divorced are not doing so, because they can't afford the transaction cost.  One colleague at court tells of a situation where he has a would-be client who can't afford his fee so he and his wife both continue to live together in the house they jointly own within their still-extant marital estate -- he with his girlfriend, she with her boyfriend, all under the same roof.  A ticking time bomb of a situation, if you ask me.

Within that sort of economic environment, "Arthur Dent" is spending money, probably a lot of it, to have these flyers printed up and distributed, so that he can attract clients who will have difficulty compensating him for his services.  My verdict is that the only thing that will save "Arthur Dent" from the ruinous consequences of a successful marketing campaign will be the singular ineffectiveness of the advertisement deployed in pursuit of that strategy.

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