H&R Block tackles new codes

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H&R Block kicks off the tax season this month with a campaign that addresses the sweeping changes in U.S. tax laws.

Ads-built around a version of George Harrison's tune "Taxman"-try to leverage the 441 tax law changes that take effect for the 2001 tax year (the most changes in two decades), said David Byers, Block's senior VP-chief marketing officer.

Block, which will spend $100 million in total this year, is one of the few financial advertisers that actually increased its ad spending as the U.S. economy slid into recession. Besides additional spending on its financial services campaign, the company increased its overall tax season advertising budget by about 20% in 2001 (AA, Sept. 3).

"We will be out there with a presence now, while other competitors are trying to find their place," Mr. Byers said. "The current consumer sentiment helps our business. People want to make sure they get every single dollar back."

The campaign, breaking Dec. 31, includes TV, direct-response TV, direct mail, a million-dollar contest promotion, and other sponsorships and promotional tie-ins.

A series of black-and-white spots show a trio of stern taxmen lip-syncing the "one for you, 19 for me" lyrics, as a voice-over explains that the complex tax laws make a tax preparer's help more valuable than ever this tax season. In one spot, the announcer warns: "It took an act of Congress to pass 441 tax law changes. Will it take an act of God to understand them?"

That pitch is at the heart of this new campaign, said Mr. Byers, and the difficulties in the economy have only made the pitch more appealing.

Block is also promoting the H&R Block Double Check Challenge Million Dollar Sweepstakes, a contest giveaway among customers who have previous year's tax return checked by Block for additional refunds. Another promotion will feature "Many Happy Returns Monday," a giveaway tie-in with CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond," where viewers will receive prizes and a mailer from Block and the Viacom network that will be sent to 35 million households. Block will also sponsor tax preparation segments on other networks' morning news shows.

The campaign, created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, continues the tagline, "Just Plain Smart," which Campbell Mithun unveiled last tax season. The campaign also dovetails with an effort to back Block's financial services offerings which broke earlier this month.

Block recently reported that its revenue increased 12.2% to $379 million during the quarter ending Oct. 31, thanks to its mortgage operations, and it cut its losses-it traditionally posts losses in all quarters excluding the fiscal quarter ending April 30-by 43.6% to $28 million. The company also reaffirmed its estimate of 10% to 15% revenue growth at the end of its fiscal year in April.

Block will break additional efforts from Campbell Mithun to promote its financial planning services after the tax season ends, Mr. Byers said.

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