H&R Block's 'I Got People' Campaign Is a Winner

The Best Selling Idea We've Seen in Recent Years

By Published on .

For those of you who think creativity is synonymous with novelty or outrageousness, allow us to save you some trouble. What follows is a review of an extraordinary advertising campaign that will not impress you, because you are stupid.

So here, for your disparagement convenience, are some responses harvested from internet posts by artistes just like yourselves.

"Garfield is a blowhard. ... Tell Bob to get his head out of his ass! ... What the hell has he ever done anyway to come off as some know-it-all of creativity and the business? ... No need to bother with Garfield, as he's hopelessly stuck in the '80s. ... Bob Garfield is a total hack. You can pretty much just go with the opposite of what he says to find out what's good."

There, that should do it. Feel free now to surf the web for some pop-culture trend to imitate. Don't forget the CGI! Meanwhile, AdReview will document a bona fide Big Idea.

Income-tax forms
The client is H&R Block, whose 60,000 mostly seasonal workers settle into strip-mall storefronts each winter to fill out the income-tax forms most of its customers could probably easily file themselves. That's because most personal tax accounting is simple and straightforward: a 1040A short form requiring one W-2 with your payroll details and about one minute to fill in the blanks, or the regular 1040 with the W-2; a couple of 1099s for bank-account interest; a few receipts for charitable contributions; and documentation of your mortgage interest, real-estate taxes and alimony.

That's why you never hear the word "accountant" in an H&R Block ad. The basic 1040 requires an accountant like walking in the moonlight requires an astronaut.

But millions of Americans are intimidated or overwhelmed by this annual chore, and H&R Block is right there for them. The genius of the campaign is how well it understands the "them." The ads are populated with the financially unsophisticated. They are young or working-class, living in modest urban apartments or rural trailers.

"I got people," says the copy-shop guy.

"I got people," says the mailman.

"I got people," says the young hubby in his garden apartment.

"I got people," says the elderly waiter.

A financial entourage
But it's not just "Don't worry, it's taken care of." To a person, these characters and those around them are impressed with the idea of having access -- just like rich folks -- to someone who can swoop in and do the taking-care-of. To this audience, H&R Block isn't an overpriced form-filler-outer. It's a financial entourage. Thus has Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, succeeded in turning a down-market purchase into a point of pride. Like those Members Only jackets from the '80s, only not excruciatingly pitiful.

You could argue this is condescending or exploitative, but we think not. The value of a good or service is exactly that which the purchaser places on it. If the consumer believes H&R Block confers prestige, then, by God, it does.

OK, sure, as entertainment, a couple of the ads fall a bit flat. Big deal. Others are gems -- such as the one featuring Jerry, the owner of a mini-mart. With H&R Block's help, he's just come out of an audit unscathed. Now he's re-lettering his gasoline-price sign to read: "Jerry 1, IRS 0." Then, right underneath: "I got people."

This is, of course, not a dark, hilarious joke. Nor did it reanimate any dead Midwesterners, nor will it get anyone gold -- or laid -- in Cannes. It's just the best selling idea we've seen in at least five years.

~ ~ ~
Review: 3.5 stars
Ad: H&R Block
Agency: Campbell-Mithun
Location: Minneapolis
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