H&R Block Ushers in 'Refund Season' With Slew of New Ads

Ads Promote Do-It-Yourself Tax Service, Educate Consumers About Affordable Care Act

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H&R Block is debuting new advertising to get people hyped for tax season -- a tall order -- by dubbing it refund season and emphasizing the money consumers could get back. The company joins other tax preparers like TurboTax in ushering the tax season in with new advertising.

New this year is a push for H&R Block's do-it-yourself tax prep software, which allows customers to file their federal returns for free and state returns at a special rate of $9.99. Two quirky spots for the online service launched on national TV today and emphasize the price point by repeating 9.99 in different ways. One ad features two people attempting to pronounce the German word "nein."

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The company chose to push its online service, which started more than 15 years ago, this tax season because of its special pricing. "This is a new message, because it's such a great price point and most people who do their taxes don't want to spend a lot of money," said CMO Kathy Collins.

It also helps to set the brand apart from competitors who only serve one side of the tax market. "We're trying to remind people that we're not just brick-and-mortar," she said. "If you do want to do your taxes on your own, we have an option for you."

Ms. Collins said the tax service market has stayed pretty consistent for the past 15 years with 65% of consumers seeking help to file their tax returns and 35% managing it themselves, according to H&R Block's research.

The campaign to promote H&R Block's retail business, where customers can have their taxes filed by a professional, is called "Get Your Billions Back, America." It builds on last year's push, "Get Your Billion Back, America," by emphasizing the joy of the refund to ease the conversation around what can be a stressful season.

It kicked off with three spots that launched today featuring H&R Block's real-life tax pro and spokesperson, Richard Gartland -- the guy with the green bow tie. In one ad, he reminds consumers of the company's commitment to getting money back by airdropping palettes of cash out of a plane. In another, meant to bring the message to a personal level, he enters an IRS vault to find the cash that's calling consumers' names. "Sarah," he whispers while flipping through a stack of cash in a nod to one of the writers at Fallon, the creative agency behind the push. The third spot also shows Mr. Gartland in the vault.

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Ms. Collins said H&R Block stuck with last year's approach because it got consumers' attention -- so much so that customers came in for tax services last year saying, "I want my piece of the billion," and "where's that bow-tie guy?"

"It was really productive and effective for us last year, so we thought, 'let's just make it better,'" said Ms. Collins. "It's a really joyful way at looking at what could be kind of a downer -- taxes."

H&R Block's tax services revenue rose 16.5% to $2.5 billion from $2.2 billion during the quarter ending April 30, 2014, which includes most of tax season, according to an earnings statement.

Like last year, Ms. Collins said to expect online video later in the tax season, as well as other interactive marketing and social strategies to reach young people. In 2014, H&R Block went after millennials with online video, creating the "Hipster Tax Crisis" series and "Billion Back Records," which tapped YouTube talent. The company plans to incorporate interactive experiences like a money machine that spits out cash at a concert or mall and online video gaming, among other tactics this year.

Ms. Collins declined to reveal the budget for the ad campaign, but said it's slightly larger than last year. "We have a lot to talk about this year with the Affordable Care Act … and bringing D.I.Y back into the fold. So we're definitely investing," she said.

H&R Block, based in Kansas City, Mo., spent $183.8 million on U.S. measured media in 2013, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.

The tax service also began an educational push last month to teach people how the Affordable Care Act may impact their taxes. It culminated in ACA Q&A Day yesterday when anyone could drop by H&R Block's 10,000 offices for free tax advice.

"The Affordable Care Act is the biggest change to the tax code in 20 or so years, so we have to educate and make sure that people aren't worried about it," said Ms. Collins. "We've got your back."

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