H&R Block Plans $32 Million Giveaway for Tax Season

Tax Brand Will Promote Sweepstakes, DIY Services in New TV Ads

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H&R Block's new ad features scores of dancing George Washingtons.
H&R Block's new ad features scores of dancing George Washingtons. Credit: H&R Block

Those who didn't win the Powerball need not worry: H&R Block is making it rain. To promote its services as consumers enter tax season, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company will give away $1,000 to 1,000 customers daily for 32 consecutive days beginning with a lottery drawing on Saturday. With a pricetag of $32 million, this is the first large-scale sweepstakes for the 61-year-old company, which has 10,000 retail locations.

"We wanted to do something meaningful that got people's attention --something fun to celebrate the season," said Kathy Collins, chief marketing officer and a 10-year veteran of the company. "It might be the biggest sweepstakes of all time."

H&R Block, which prepared more than 24 million global tax returns in 2014, has previously offered 50% discounts on tax preparation services and similar pricing-based promotions. Ms. Collins explained that the sweepstakes encourages consumers to file their taxes early, since the sooner you file, the better your chances of winning the prize.

To boost awareness of its lottery, the company is airing two 30-second commercials featuring its green bow-tied spokesman, Richard Gartland, with hip-hop overtones. In one spot, "1,000 Washingtons," several men dressed as George Washington dance in choreographed moves -- an image that evokes Broadway hit "Hamilton." A third Spanish-language commercial starring up-and-coming reggaeton star Wisin and created by Miami-based agency Marca will also air on networks including Univision and Telemundo. The effort will be supported by social media and local marketing at H&R Block retail outposts.

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In addition, H&R Block is running three commercials focused on its do-it-yourself tax services, a division that accounts for the minority of its business -- less than the 40% industrywide average. The spots promote a $9.99 cost for DIY returns through the H&R Block brand -- a similar strategy to 2015. In addition, H&R Block will begin airing two 30-second spots and two 15-second spots for late-season tax filers between Feb. 15 and March 15. Those ads will feature Mr. Gartland and NBA player Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.

H&R Block worked with its agency of record, Minneapolis-based Fallon, on the current initiatives. The company is spending close to what it spent on last year's campaign, according to Ms. Collins. "It's a little bit less because we are investing so much in the giveaway," she noted.

The tax firm spent $116 million on U.S. measured media in 2014, a 37% drop from 2013, according to Ad Age DataCenter. H&R Block's revenue for last year's quarter ended April 30, a time period that includes the bulk of tax filings, was $2.3 billion, a 12% decline over the year-earlier period.

Throughout the last 12 months, the company has been phasing out its upscale H&R Block Premium brand -- those locations have since been converted to a new retail brand, Block Advisers, which launched Thursday. With 300 regional locations, Block Advisers targets consumers with more complicated tax returns, such as those who are self-employed or entrepreneurs. The brand will have its own logo separate from that of its parent company.

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