H&R Block Shifts Shops Hoping For Big Return On Watson

Consolidates Media With Publicis Groupe Agencies

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H&R Block's 2017 Super Bowl ad featuring Jon Hamm.
H&R Block's 2017 Super Bowl ad featuring Jon Hamm. Credit: H&R Block

IBM's Watson can do a lot of things. It can beat Gary Kasparov at chess. It can compete on "Jeopardy!" And now it can influence ad agency policy.

Some three months after H&R Block's Super Bowl spot from Fallon featuring Jon Hamm touting the company's relationship with Watson, the tax preparer is moving its social media, along with its media planning and strategy work, to the shop that created the Hamm campaign (Hammpaign?). WPP's VML previously fielded the social business. H&R Block is also moving its broadcast media buying to Mediavest Spark from Omnicom Group's OMD.

The shift essentially gives Publicis Groupe, parent of Fallon and Mediavest Spark, a sweep on the business.

In a emailed statement, H&R Block chief marketing and strategy officer Kathy Collins said the changes are part of an "effort to streamline work and increase integration across channels."

And H&R Block has some streamlining to do: The company reported declines in volume of tax returns in recent years, and last year blamed heavy promotional activity by competitor TurboTax. However H&R Block reported in April it gained market share in the most recent tax season "despite an overall industry decline."

The company spent $146 million in measured media in the U.S in 2016, according to Kantar Media.

Fallon CEO Mike Buchner said this past tax season was a "transformational one" for H&R Block, as it introduced its partnership with Watson. "When you combine those two things — the human intelligence and the artificial intelligence — it's going to yield the absolute best tax outcome for the consumer," he said. "No matter what's going to go on with tax reform, that's ultimately what consumers want: They want the very best tax outcome, the biggest rebate."

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