New Year, Old Woes

Y&R’s H&R Block Ads Focus on Tax Shifts
CHICAGO–Two things are certain in January: Tax forms are in the mail, and H&R Block commercials are on TV.
H&R Block’s 1998 campaign, from Young & Rubicam here, suggests new federal tax laws make it far too difficult for individuals to prepare tax returns on their own.
The Kansas City, Mo.-based company is again spending its entire ad budget, about $15 million, on the TV campaign, which breaks today and runs through April, said Eric Steinhouse, vice president of marketing at H&R Block.
The three spots use the tagline Y&R developed last year for the tax preparation service, “Someone to watch over you,” a line appropriated from the lilting Gershwin song of romantic longing heard throughout the commercials. In the ads, of course, the singer isn’t seeking a lover, but an accountant.
H&R Block has seized upon changes in the tax laws to attract taxpayers who may be undecided about whether they should do their own returns. “There’s no question it’s much more complicated,” Steinhouse said of the new tax code.
In one spot, “Gobbledygook,” a man sitting at a desk appears tortured as he looks over the tax rules, while a droning voiceover reads portions of the new code. As the hapless taxpayer continues to squirm, the viewer is asked what all the changes mean and then told, “It means it’s a good year to see the experienced tax pros at H&R Block.”
A second spot features time-lapse footage of the Washington Monument, with the passing days indicated by a rapid flurry of clouds overhead. The viewer is told it took Congress 211 days to come up with the tax code. “Something tells us you don’t have that much time,” says the voiceover.
A third spot suggests the 824 rule changes can lead to taxpayer mistakes. “Maybe,” suggests the voiceover, “it’s a mistake not to go to H&R Block.”