H&R Block ads recalculate image with tax-time humor

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Excuse us if we're a bit ill-tempered, but at the moment we are up to our nostril hairs in receipts, W2s, 1099s, Schedules B and C and forms with such numbers as 1040(A) and, if we're not mistaken, 6 (Petite).

Yes, it's tax season, which means we must prepare our taxes for our tax preparer, who will charge us $300 to enter our numbers into Turbo Tax and then deliver the bad news right off of his computer monitor. He is a CPA, so when the IRS comes tracking me down, he will take the call.

Then he'll tell them where I live, because he's not the one who deducted the Mostly Disease Free Escorts (TM) bills as unreimbursed business expenses.

So, what we're saying is, we admit we're morons, taxwise. But we believe that we're not the biggest morons, taxwise. Our suspicion is that the biggest morons, taxwise, have always been the clientele of H&R Block, who pay dearly to have Block's many non -CPA tax preparers fill out the 1040 EZ, which means attaching a W2 and taking the standard deduction, and then locking up the storefront on April 16 like migrant workers after the strawberry harvest.

Oh, Block has a diverse clientele, but the bread and butter has always been "Middle America" -- i.e., Joe Sixpack, intimidated by the complexity of the tax code and the looming presence of the IRS, no matter that the short form renders those worries irrelevant.

But here's the point: Suddenly, we're prepared to change our minds.

That's thanks entirely to a fresh, funny, knowing campaign from Y&R Advertising, Chicago, which is using the current tax season to begin restaging Block as a full-fledged financial-services company. The proof will be in the client's performance, but seldom has one campaign so credibly invited a change in consumer perception. This advertising -- 11 serialized spots over 20 days in the life of a taxpayer -- has the potential of erasing Block's tinge of seasonal, assembly-line unsavoryness and repositioning it as the Starbucks of personal finance.

The series begins on Day 2 in the life of an ordinary, upper-middle-class filer. He seems reasonably chipper as he sharpens his pencil. Then, whistling, he tosses it upwards. There it lodges in the acoustical tile -- next to 40 other pencils. "Ah," he says with satisfaction. Then a title card: "Get help. 1 800 HRBLOCK. HRBLOCK.com."

On Tax Day 4, he consults with his cat on whether to itemize. On Tax Day 5, he opens the bedroom door to find his wife in a red teddy with a rose clenched in her teeth.

"Honey," he says, "Oh, sorry. Where's your W2?"

She: (mumbling, because of the rose stem) "In my lower left-hand desk drawer."

He: (oblivious) "Lower left. Good."

The best is Tax Day 20. Mom and Sis are sitting in the living room, reading. The only sound is the ticking of the clock. Suddenly, Dad appears on the landing, disheveled and overwrought.

"Hey!" he shouts, desperately. "Dad needs a quiet house, OK!?"

OK. Point taken. Tax season is stressful, and H&R Block can help. And we're inclined to believe it, too, because they so vividly understand what the sea of forms and elusiveness of documentation can do to us, the teeming morons.

So maybe we'll give them a try. And if that goes well -- who knows? -- maybe we can talk mutual funds.

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