SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Personal injury lawyer Jamie Casino has always had a flair for the dramatic in his ubiquitous TV commercials, but a flashy 2-minute Super Bowl ad underscored by thundering heavy metal music, a flaming sledgehammer and ripped-from-the-headlines story has set the Internet ablaze.
A full 24 hours after it aired locally, the ad jumped from 8,000 YouTube views to more than 2 million. Commenters nationwide chimed in with their reactions to the commercial, which dramatically recounts Casino’s turn from criminal defense to personal injury lawyer in the aftermath of his brother’s 2012 killing.
Les Vann, general manager of local Fox affiliate WTGS, wouldn’t disclose the rate of the ad, but confirmed it was one of the biggest ad purchases in the station’s history.
“I will tell you it’s the first time I’ve ever had a 2-minute spot in any game, let alone the Super Bowl,” said Vann via email.
Only a limited number of commercial blocks go to local stations during America’s most-watched sporting event, with the bulk belonging to the network, according to Vann. The going rate this year for a nationally aired 30-second slot averaged $4 million.
Casino’s ad, which appears to have only been shown in the Savannah market, aired during the first local station break during halftime.
Based on a true story
The prime-time ad begins with a verse from the Bible and Casino introducing himself before launching into a dramatic retelling of how he became a personal injury attorney.
“I wasn’t always a personal injury lawyer … I once was a notorious criminal defense lawyer who was employed by some of the most cold-hearted villains,“ says Casino in a voiceover.
Casino goes on to depict events surrounding the real-life slaying of his brother over Labor Day weekend in 2012. Casino’s younger brother, Michael Biancosino, 30 at the time, and Emily Pickels, 21, were shot and killed in Biancosino’s vehicle in the early hours of Sept. 1.
A Savannah man, Walter Moon, is currently under indictment for the slayings and another suspect, Sidney Grant, was killed last March in another shooting.
At the time, Casino was quoted in the Savannah Morning News thanking detectives for their hard work and expressing confidence in the investigators assigned to the case.
The ad takes a much harsher tone, accusing former Police Chief Willie Lovett of “deceiving” the public about the spate of killings that occurred that weekend — there were two other homicides on Sept. 2.
In the ad, an animated newspaper called the Savannah News with a sketched outline of Lovett bears the headline: “CHIEF COVERS UP LABOR DAY TRAGEDY.”
In a Sept. 15 news article, Lovett is quoted as saying that Biancosino and Pickels were not involved in any wrongdoing when they were killed, clarifying an earlier statement that “there were no innocent victims.”
Attempts to reach Casino for comment were unsuccessful Monday.
Production value and mixed reactions
Although Casino’s ad touches on a seriously personal topic, it is the amplified and over-the-top production value that seems to have resonated most with viewers unfamiliar with Casino’s life story.
Savannah-based video production company eThree Media helped produce the ad. Eric Darling, eThree’s founder, wrote on Facebook that he had shot the footage while Casino wrote, directed and edited the spot.
Casino’s infamous sledgehammer, which he’s used in other local ads to “smash money out of stingy insurance companies,” appears on fire as he smashes the headstone of his brother. The sledgehammer bears the name of his brother.
The melodramatic tone and other special effects recall any number of suspense thrillers and vendetta plotlines starring Nicolas Cage or Liam Neeson.
Reaction over social media was mostly positive, with many lauding the movie-trailer feel.
“Greatest Super Bowl ad that you DID NOT see last night,” wrote commenter Gregory Hooker on YouTube.
“Bad [expletive]!” wrote another commenter, Mooseee1.
Locally, however, reaction was more mixed. Commenters on Savannah Morning News’ Facebook page expressed disappointment with Casino for trying to profit from his personal tragedy.
“Although it is sad what happened to his brother, in my opinion, he exploited it for his own personal gain,” wrote Jeff Bentley.
“Like all his commercials, offensive,” wrote Susan Sowell Collins.
Bobby Phillips, a senior partner at Phillips, Roberts & Carson law firm, also expressed disapproval. “It is past time for the State Bar put out guidelines for lawyer advertisements,” wrote Phillips. “It makes all lawyers look bad.”
The publicity surrounding the ad recalled another Savannah business that attempted to air a controversial Super Bowl ad.
In November, Black Creek-based gun manufacturer Daniel Defense made national headlines after they were denied airtime by local Fox affiliates for a proposed pro-gun Super Bowl ad. The rejected ad has since garnered 225,000 views on YouTube.
Media sites Buzzfeed and Deadspin helped propel Casino’s ad to viral status.
Casino seemed to acknowledge the hype via Facebook after posting a link to a Rolling Stone article on his ad with the simple caption: “ROLLING STONE!!!!”