Will lawyers boost immigration reform again in 2016?

Law firms spent nearly $6M on ads touting reform in 2012. Will they show up again?

At Kantar Media CMAG, we're used to seeing ads addressing hot-button issues. In our political and advocacy ad-tracking business, that's pretty much all we get. Not so much in our law firm ad tracking, though-with the notable exception of immigration reform.

For more than 10 years, CMAG has monitored law firm television advertising pertaining to immigration, from ads soliciting viewers to retain a firm's services for deportation defense, to spots referencing President George W. Bush's attempt at passing comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. In more recent years, we have picked up ads by law firms referring specifically to President Obama's executive orders on the topic.

In June 2012, Obama announced two new executive orders: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The intended outcome was to bring millions of undocumented immigrants into compliance with US law.

Over the past three years, CMAG has tracked and coded 170 unique advertisements referencing these two executive orders. Unsurprisingly, this activity peaked in the last six months of 2012 as Obama sought re-election. During that time period, CMAG classified more than 15,000 occurrences of these types of ads with over $5.5 million spent. The year after Obama's re-election, the activity dropped off precipitously: only $310,000 was spent in 2013 on 3,500+ airings of ads entreating clients to use a specific law firm's services to file their DAPA or DACA applications.

Key Numbers
15,000+ immigration-related law firm TV spots in 2012 

According to the Brookings Institution, more than half a million people had applied for DACA as of August 2013, the first year of this new initiative's application process. Furthermore, 72% of those who have applied have been approved and a mere 1% have been denied, mostly due to incomplete applications. The majority of the pending applications were still under review at that time.

Looking at the data we have on this ad activity for 2014 (65 airings, two unique ads, $17,000 spent in Atlanta and Las Vegas) and thus far in 2015 (22 airings, two unique ads, $6,000 spent in Dallas and Los Angeles), we can discern a sharp dichotomy between the programs' popularity and ease of use in relation to the TV advertising used to sign up clients from 2013, onwards.

Given the extensive law firm advertising in areas ranging from mesothelioma tort lawsuits to RX drug and medical device liability, this dearth of legal ad activity on an extremely high-profile issue affecting nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants is indeed curious. We can only speculate as to the reasons. It is likely that law firms sought to capitalize on the issue when interest among potential clients was at a peak following Obama's signing of the executive orders.

But, the drop-off may also result from the fact that the federal government is not a hostile target on the issue; the government is solicitous of, and receptive toward applicants in order to address the immigration issue. This is not the case with legal ads targeting drug companies or recall-facing auto companies where outside legal expertise is needed by consumers.

Also, since 2013 this spending has been micro-targeted at the local level. CMAG did not track any expensive national cable or national network buys; all activity over the past 2.5 years aired on local affiliates.

Likewise of note is that on February 15, 2015, a Texas district court ruled that Obama's two executive orders violated several federal laws and statutes requiring more ample public notification and discussion of such far-reaching government actions, which at least temporarily halts the implementation of the DACA and DAPA programs and thus, related law firm advertising.

Over the past 10 years we have become used to viewing the cyclical nature of law firm advertising. As is the case with energy policy, healthcare, government spending, social security, etc., CMAG does not expect a tidy end to this debate. Political issues tend not to be comprehensively resolved - they tend to evolve. As the airwaves heat up for 2016 and these unresolved immigration reforms come back to the fore in political debate, we're confident that law firms specializing in immigration will wade back into the public policy arena with their ad campaigns.

Interested in learning more? You can get insights just like this from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) law firm ad monitoring service. CMAG delivers real-time, accurate information on where TV ads are airing, what they say, how much is being spent, and the actual creative for viewing. Our experts provide clients with actionable insights to inform critical decision making. Contact us today to discover how we can help you!

Search article

You might also be interested in...

Political: fast, actionable advertising intelligence
Read more
Washington DC
4C delivers first-to-market cross-screen media solution for political advertising in partnership with Kantar Media
Read more