Personal Injury Advertising – A Picture is Worth….

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I was recently at a stoplight in Hamilton, stuck behind three busses spanning three of the four lanes in front of me.  All three were covered in ads for three different law firms, all personal injury.  Drive another block and there are anywhere between four to eight billboards again advertising personal injury services.  Some are soft, subtle and warm.  Others are creative, catchy and cleaver.  Then there are those that are more fear-mongering, “in your face”, and aggressive.  Whatever the style, message or format, clearly these ads represent the culture of the advertising firm, leaving the “buyer” to choose the approach that best might meet their needs.

Now the focus of this blog is to not bash the way lawyer advertising has evolved.  If signs in parking garages, washrooms, bars, hospitals, or on busses, benches and billboards work, go for it.   Lawyers are intelligent people, if the ROI on these investments is not paying off, I assume they would find an alternative.  However, I do know that within their own community, through events I have attended and articles I have read, that many firms are being criticized for the approach they are taking with the more aggressive “you don’t pay until we win” mentality.  Also, the fear-mongering approach directed at a population of vulnerable and often disadvantaged people can be viewed by many as distasteful.  Honestly, I think the public are becoming somewhat desensitized to the vast number of ads marketing the same thing and the more these ads surface, the less impactful they become.  But as a business owner, I can understand the intense competition in the industry and respect any professional who invests in their business, or themselves, to make a buck.

Where I think these ads need to improve, however, is in the representation of people with disabilities.  Some ads get this perfectly.  They show everyday survivors (presumably “real” past clients) doing the things they love, or “living” after their tragedy.  That, to me, hits the nail on the head.  Others though use images that are transparently “fake” and confuse the message.  Taking a photo of a fit, young(ish) person in Lululemon clothing who looks like they are ready for the Paralympics but is sitting in a clunker wheelchair from the 70’s just doesn’t jive.  The image is flawed and the message is lost.

As an advocate for people with disabilities, I would like to see a movement of “real” people with “real” disabilities center-stage for these ads, and in any ad for that matter, that is trying to represent this population.  Why?  Because it is easy for a non-disabled person to sit in a wheelchair for a photo, but the reverse is not true in that a person who actually uses a wheelchair cannot just “stand-up” to pose as a “non-disabled person” for a photo shoot.  So, let’s give the money spent on stock-photos, modeling and the resulting income to the population of people that “live” these problems, not to regular people who don’t truly represent.

And yes, I am guilty of this as well.  In searching for website stock photos we found several where the person in a wheelchair is standing in the next image.  Or, the one where you see the back of my husband sitting in a wheelchair to capture the image of a once real, but now needed-to-be-simulated, client-Julie interaction.

In searching for a way to better support the community of disabled persons, and to ensure the photos we use in our own media align with “real” people, we came across these sites which sell “true” stock images:

Lawyers working in personal injury – I hope you will join the movement to improve the representation of “disabled people” in your ads to, if nothing else, better support that community financially, realistically and appropriately in your advertising.