H&R Block Sues AmEx Over Ad

DETROIT H&R Block’s people are not American Express’ people.

At least that’s the contention in a trademark infringement case filed by Block, the tax preparation firm, late last week in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Missouri.

Block contends that its “My people” campaign, via Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, has been encroached in an AmEx broadcast spot via Ogilvy & Mather, New York. The AmEx spot began running in April as part of its “Are you a card member?” campaign, and features entertainers Ellen DeGeneres and Beyonce Knowles.

The Block ads joke about how the firm’s clients don’t have to worry about their taxes because they have “people” to handle them, as well as a number of other everyday tasks. In the disputed AmEx ad, DeGeneres searches for her “people” after Knowles encourages her to “have your people call my people” to get tickets to her upcoming concert.

“During the approximately 60-second commercial, ‘people’ is used . . . 12 times, the concept of having ‘people’ is used four times and ‘my people’ is used six times,” the lawsuit says, referring to the AmEx spot.

In its filing, Block notes the critical acclaim its multiplatform campaign has received. “Many have gone beyond merely describing the ‘My people’ campaign, and have actually come to identify the phrase ‘I got people’ with H&R Block,” the lawsuit states. It also claims that H&R Block and its entities have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars on national television, radio, print, Web and direct mail” for “My people.”

“It’s a highly popular campaign that has really resonated,” said Block representative Nancy Mays. “We built the campaign around our greatest strength: our people.”

Block contends that it had contacted AmEx in May and voiced its concern, but no action was taken. The lawsuit asks for an injunction to halt the campaign, and also seeks compensatory relief. AmEx declined to comment.

AmEx spent $510 million on U.S. ads last year, while Block spent $80 million, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The figures do not include online spending.