California Wildfires Lead to Small Brushfire on NorCal Airwaves

That trial lawyers often target pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers with their advertising is a well-established fact that Kantar Media/CMAG has documented over the years. In terms of targeting specific industries, it is the most target-rich environment and as the U.S. Chamber study of our data notes, this ad spend is recession proof. Less well-known, is another deep-pocketed sector of the American economy that is often the target of the plaintiffs’ bar—the energy industry.

Since 2010, Kantar has tracked $18.3 million in ad activity targeted against utility companies and energy producers. Approximately half of this spending, to accompany 26,000 airings, is on ads soliciting asbestos claimants who have contracted mesothelioma from exposure through the oil industry.  Another offshoot of this ad activity are spots targeting BP in the wake of their April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; that accounts for $6 million in spending on 48,000 airings in local TV buys in Southeastern U.S. DMAs.

A newer target of the plaintiffs’ bar is the natural gas industry, with many creatives often times capitalizing on the contentiousness of the “fracking” issue in terms of its environmental impact. In 2017, we have tracked $1.3 million worth of advertising targeting producers of natural gas. This dwarfs the ad activity directed wholly at the oil industry and the small remnant of ads still soliciting claimants for the BP oil spill. Earlier in the year, natural gas producers were accused in trial lawyer advertising of causing earthquakes in Oklahoma.


And, in these ads’ newest iteration, of causing the recent California wildfires that have claimed the lives of 43 people.On October 19, Kantar Media/CMAG captured the first ad making this allegation—put out by Houston-based Robins Cloud, LLP. This was done to prepare the ground for their November 2 filing of a lawsuit against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court—alleging that PG&E’s electrical equipment was not properly maintained and provided the spark that started these fires.


On October 26, the Wildfire Legal Group joined them on the airwaves with similarly-themed ads designed to organize claimants against Erin Brockovich’s bete noire.


Taken together, there are five firms have released 16 new creatives in the past three weeks totaling $685,000 in spending with 1,312 airings—all on local San Francisco spot TV.

While this issue is not as high-profile as the BP oil spill and there are fewer trial lawyers with their hat in the ring in terms of ad activity, the spending on this topic is surprisingly roughly comparable. The California wildfires began on October 8 and we are now almost three months out from their beginning. At this point after the April 20, 2010 BP oil spill, Kantar Media/CMAG had monitored approximately $603,000 in BP oil spill mass tort ads, with ads coming from 27 law firms airing spots a total of 3,962 times in 14 Gulf Coast markets. The major reason for the relative parity between these two categories of advertising is the high cost of TV advertising in a Top 10 market like San Francisco versus the smaller and less expensive media markets which featured BP oil spill advertising.

With new ads on the horizon on this topic and the trial to come in the courts, we can surmise that this category of advertising will grow until the case is adjudicated in court. In the event of a judgment against PG&E, buckle up…

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