H&R Block Has Millennials in Its Sights for Tax Season

In a campaign where bow ties and football collide

One might assume that digital-savvy millennials are do-it-yourself-ers when it comes to filing taxes. But H&R Block's research suggests otherwise, and the tax-preparation giant said that—while social media is a fine place to reach the demo—broadcast ads still perform well while targeting young adults.

"What millennials tell us is a little bit surprising," Kathy Collins, H&R Block's cmo, told Adweek. "When they prepare their taxes, they don't want someone who looks like them sitting across the desk. That's why [they want] someone like Richard, our tax pro. And it's pretty surprising how many [millennials] are still watching live TV."

In "Richard," Collins was referring to a real-life H&R Block preparer Richard Gartland, who, for the second tax season, will be the featured character for her brand's commercials and radio spots, as well as its online/mobile display and social-media promos. Gartland has 27 years of accounting experience and works in an H&R Block office in Glendale, Calif. The cmo suggested that Gartland—bespectacled and wearing a green bow tie—appeals to hipsters as well those a little longer in the tooth.

"He just looks like he carries that wisdom and is working so well for the brand," she said.

Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block is embarking on a "Get Your Billion Back America" effort, which is kicking off across media channels after debuting a few spots during the NFL playoff games on Sunday. The tagline is based on a study H&R Block said it undertook last year, re-checking 1,200 self-prepared tax filings for consumers to see how many missed out on bigger returns thanks to preparation missteps. More than half of them could request more money from the government, collectively adding up to more than $1 billion, per the brand. In addition to paid media, the "Billion Back" message will adorn windows on H&R Block's some 11,000 locations nationwide until after tax day (April 15).

"We are trying to get the message to people about getting all of that cash back," Collins added. "It's our wake-up call. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor—everyone wants their money."

With 14 weeks to go in the initiative led by creative agency Fallon, H&R Block is taking measures to avoid getting stale. For instance, the brand is currently in production for a series of videos dedicated for online consumption that will be pushed via social channels in the coming weeks. 

"We want to make sure we keep the campaign fresh with a number of different executions," Collins said.

But expect to continue seeing a lot of TV spots through the end of football season and into March Madness. "We've had a lot of luck in sports channels," she said. "Our brand indexes very high among sports viewers."

Fallon isn't the only shop helping shepherd "Billion Back." OMD Worldwide is the media agency, while Razorfish is handling digital display and Web work and 360i has the brand's search and social media.

It's probably worth noting that Gartland's green bow tie adorns the campaign's print materials and a microsite (which utilizes the vertical scroll style made popular by young-minded Tumblr). And with that said, the creative probably suits millennials who either appreciate fashion peculiarities or who really, really love Doctor Who.