Lawyer LaFonta, Bounce Phenom Big Freedia, Artist Smith Put Art Back Into Advertising
“Juan LaFonta, Juan LaFonta, Juan LaFonta…” You’re probably guilty of singing a bar or two of this catchy jingle from attorney Juan LaFonta’s TV commercials featuring local bounce phenom Big Freedia.
LaFonta is continuing his culturally-savvy marketing campaign, capitalizing on the unique charisma of New Orleans artists, with a series of six new billboard installations.
Drawing inspiration from LaFonta’s Big Freedia commercials, local visual artist Roan Smith was tasked to capture the vibrant nature of LaFonta and Freedia and the color and character of the Crescent City.
“Juan reached out to me with this idea of using New Orleans artists to craft his new ad campaign,” graphic designer and illustrator Smith said. Raised in the arts by a musician and a photographer, Smith said he is inspired by comic book illustrations including those by Jae Lee, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller and Frank Frazetta.
“What intrigued me about it was the fact that he wasn’t asking me to render a run-of-the-mill ad, but rather create a piece of art in my own style,” he said. “Also, when he ran down the list of artists he was reaching out to including Lionel Milton and Reuben Cheatem, both artists I’ve followed for years, I had to be a part of it. Not to mention, the idea of doing a portrait of Big Freedia was an exciting one.”
“The results have been great,” LaFonta said about his TV commercials featuring Big Freedia. “The community has embraced the brand, and locals sing the song when I encounter them in public. I have been in the most unlikely places, and someone is singing the song. It’s awesome. Several clients come to us because they love the advertising, and they feel comfortable that our firm represents their interests. It makes me believe more in our community and the people who are here.”
Juan LaFonta & Associates, LLC has represented thousands of clients in serious personal injury cases since 2002. Elected and re-elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2005 and 2007, representing the people of House District 96, which includes the Bywater, Treme, Gentilly, the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, LaFonta is a lifelong resident of Louisiana’s second Congressional District and still lives on the same street where he grew up.
The son of a bricklayer and a public school teacher, LaFonta was the first freshman legislator ever elected to a chairmanship in the Louisiana State Legislature as chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, a position he held until July 2008. He said he’s committed to economic development in his community and working to ease the tax burden on local businesses to help create jobs, including those for local artists.
“Roan and I had a good chemistry,” LaFonta said of his first billboard collaborator. “Very similar to the chemistry I had with Nick Pino, the director of the commercial. Both guys love diverse music like I do, and he has a music background like me. Both Roan and Nick were characters in the community who believe in celebrating ‘the real’ in the community through rose-colored glasses. Roan is so talented, and he got inside my head and took the idea to another level. It was so exciting to see my ideas take on life in Roan’s image.”
“Juan and I had been discussing our disappointment in local lawyer advertising for a long time,” said Kevin P. Conway, who manages LaFonta’s marketing, video production and press relations though his marketing firm RPM, LLC. “Specifically, we were discussing lawyers that use some sort of jingle or local musicians. It all just felt like it was exploiting the artists and commandeering the culture to profiteer off the artists’ backs. We knew that we had to do something authentic that celebrates the local artists and our unique New Orleans culture.
“We decided that bounce music was as New Orleans as it gets,” he said. “And as authentic as Big Freedia is to New Orleans bounce music and culture, Juan is to being a New Orleans advocate, before as a state representative and now as a personal injury attorney. His demographic is his community, the neighborhood that he grew up in, that same neighborhood that he still lives in, the people he was raised with, and those same people that he still embraces every single day.”
LaFonta said New Orleans’ culture is filled with a series of art platforms and performers that illustrate to the world why the city is so unique. He chose six artists to create billboards to advertise his business including Ayo Scott and Jamar Pierre. He said the ads will take on whatever direction the artists choose to interpret his ‘Juan LaFonta will fight for you’ advertising slogan.
LaFonta said, “If we do not support the arts and embrace those people living to illustrate the differences of our community in color, design, music, dance, music boxes, dress and theater, how can we push forward as a culture and as a people?”
“Juan said he wanted something in my style that reaches back to an Andy Warhol, Keith Haring vibe,” artist Smith said. “Something super colorful and eye catching. I consider my style to be a kind of psychedelic pop art, so I knew exactly what he was going for. Juan and I seemed to be on the same page conceptually from the jump, so the design wasn’t that hard to find.”
Smith said he has no objection to attorney LaFonta’s artistic advertising pursuits and that his billboard campaign is a “brilliant, and a needed move.”
“New Orleans is one of the few cities left where art and music are just as important and influential as anything else,” Smith said. “Juan knows this ‘cause he’s a cat from around the way. For him to tap into that seems like a no-brainer to me. It makes Juan stand out among the pack, and also gives local artists like myself one of the largest and most visible canvases available, a billboard, to create our art on. It’s a good move for all involved. Which usually isn’t the case for working artists in advertising.”
Marketing guru Conway said LaFonta’s transformative campaign breaks through the clutter of traditionally bland and gimmicky lawyer marketing, and stands alone by being authentic and by supporting local artists.
“LaFonta’s campaigns are more than just advertising,” he said. “They are a true reflection of urban culture in New Orleans. The reason that this ad campaign works is because it is an authentic reflection of the community. Rather than profiteering off the backs of local artists, this campaign celebrates the arts and urban New Orleans. We embraced the community and incorporated the people and businesses of the community into the ads. We celebrated diversity both in front of the camera and behind it. As a producer, I’m extremely proud of working to put together a truly diverse and locals-only production crew and onscreen talent.”
LaFonta’s six billboard designs will be rolled out this year and be seen at multiple billboard locations throughout Orleans and Jefferson parishes.