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New Fear Factor: Conn.'s Taxman

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The prospect of eating a bowlful of bugs—and similarly unsettling reality-game-show horrors—is preferable to running afoul of the taxman. Such is the strategy behind Cro nin & Co.'s new campaign for the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services' Tax Am nesty Program.

In a 30-second spot that breaks statewide on Tuesday, a contestant on the fictional Face Your Fate show is served a helping of creepy-crawlies and submerged in a tank of icy water. "So far, you've faced the 'bug buffet' and the Arctic water chamber," says the host. "Now it's time to face the Connecticut Tax Commissioner!"

As the contestant enters a chamber where the state's actual tax commissioner, Gene Gavin, awaits, the host urges him to pay his taxes by Nov. 30 to avoid penalties and prosecution. The contestant gasps: " I can't do this. I give up!" The tagline is, "Either way, you will pay."

"We want people to feel some trepidation if they don't pay their taxes," said Steve Wolfberg, executive creative director of Glastonbury, Conn.-based Cronin. The shop's last Connecticut tax amnesty ads in 1995 used a sober tone in spots with actors portraying scofflaws.

The spot will run through November on broadcast and cable; the effort also includes print ads running in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island newspapers. Spending is estimated at $1 million.

Several other states in recent years have used humor to stress the consequences of tax evasion, including New Jersey and Wisconsin.