Our H&R Block account review prediction
Steve’s breakdown: Tax companies tend to get a new agency almost every year and that’s what we thought was going to happen here. See bottom of page . . .
KANASA CITY, MO: In its first work from new agency-of-record Ogilvy, the tax prep company tries to translate seasonal joy to Tax Day.
H&R Block is debuting a campaign that likens filing taxes to celebratory times of year such as Christmas, football season or Hollywood award shows.
“It’s Tax Season” is H&R Block’s first marketing push from WPP-owned Ogilvy, which the company named as its new creative, brand strategy and PR agency of record in September.
The multi-channel effort from Ogilvy aims to ease the stress that many taxpayers associate with their W-2s and 1099s, drawing parallels to more anticipated seasons while also showcasing some of H&R Block’s updated tax prep products.
It also takes aim at direct competitor TurboTax, which is mentioned by name in some of the campaign’s longer video spots, which tell consumers to “switch to a better online tax service.”
“For most Americans, tax season is the most significant financial moment of the year. And yet it’s one of these seasons that kind of fills us with dread when you mention taxes,” said Jill Cress, chief marketing and experience officer at H&R Block, who joined the company from PayPal eight months ago.
A key statistic for Cress: even though approximately 75% of U.S. taxpayers receive a refund each year, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service, trepidation still persists. A recent study from personal finance firm Bankrate found that two-thirds of Americans have at least one concern with their annual tax refund.
“We thought, ‘Is there a way to really reframe this experience so we focus less on the process and more on the sort of end result of the season?’” Cress said.
Tax season is upon us
Officially launching on Jan. 1, 2023, with its hero “Paparazzi” spot, the new “It’s Tax Season” campaign encompasses several linear and connected TV ads that juxtapose the country’s pre-Tax Day filing blitz with football season, wedding season, award season, fishing season and the Christmas and holiday season.
“Tax season has a bad rap, obviously,” said Menno Kluin, chief creative officer at Ogilvy New York, who helped lead the charge on H&R Block’s new creative by adhering to a few simple principles: “Let’s make it approachable, let’s make it friendly, let’s celebrate it like it’s one of the other seasons,” he said.
Cut into lengths of six, 15- and 30-seconds, the bulk of the lighthearted ads, which begin to roll out widely on Jan. 3, will occasionally be placed during broadcasts that mirror their themes when possible. The NFL-related spot, for example, will run on “Sunday Night Football” and the “Paparazzi” ad will show up “in award show moments,” Cress said.
“The media placement is really going to complement the content,” she said. When asked if H&R Block had any plans to appear in Super Bowl LVII this coming February, Cress neither confirmed nor denied, saying the company has “nothing to share at the moment.”
Part of the reason for the change in tone of H&R Block’s latest messaging—and the catalyst for updating some of its do-it-yourself web tools—is the changing U.S. economy.
“We have really focused on how we can win with our existing customers, but really doubling down with who we want to win with in the future,” said Cress, who wants to attract the increasing number of “gig workers” and independent contractors, as well as Gen Z and other young taxpayers.
Beyond the wide range of TV placements, the campaign will also have a significant social media component, with H&R Block set to promote its tax prep software with the help of influencers on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. The campaign also employs audio and outdoor activations in certain markets, including using H&R Block’s flagship storefront in Manhattan’s Times Square.
The effort will run through the end of tax season, which traditionally ends on April 15 each year for what the IRS calls “calendar year filers.”
Hit the ground running
“Bringing on a new agency in September meant we really had to hit the ground running,” said Cress, noting that the decision to begin a new agency relationship just a few months before the company’s make-or-break season was “not taken lightly.” H&R Block had previously worked with Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis.
“We started to have conversations on how to view taxes differently … And before you knew it, we had the entire team over. I remember the first time we read some of these scripts out loud to the Block team, and they were just laughing. And then Jill says, ‘Can you do that again?’” Ogilvy’s Kluin recalls. “It’s like when a date goes really well. We knew we were onto something.”
However, the real feat for H&R Block and Ogilvy will be keeping the company relevant after April 15, at which point taxes—and the services used to file them—will go to the back of many Americans’ minds for the next eight months or so.
Some conversations about full-year marketing plans have already taken place, Kluin said, suggesting that H&R Block is planning to lean into its “off season” by hyping the benefits of getting a tax refund and supporting some of the company’s other products, like its Spruce mobile banking platform.
H&R Block’s new campaign seeks to not only reshape peoples’ feelings towards doing their taxes but also to position the company as the most transparent and knowledgeable choice in an industry “that has been delivering less to customers,” Cress said.
As a whole, the campaign takes a double-pronged approach to promote the two primary elements of H&R Block’s business: its in-person tax services, which the company has been best known for since brothers Henry and Richard Bloch founded it in the 1950s, as well as its online tax software that customers can access from anywhere.
The latter is crucial: between at-home tax programs and accountants who opt to e-file, 90% of Americans submitted their returns electronically in recent years, IRS data show.
In a bid to boost its online business, H&R Block is using its “It’s Tax Season” marketing platform to take aim at TurboTax. Viewers who have previously filed via TurboTax are encouraged in the ads to upload their return from last year to H&R Block’s website or app to switch services.
“We’ve certainly done work in the past that has looked at the category, but I think this is more ambitious, more bold,” Cress said. “It’s a bit of a take-the-gloves-off approach.”