How to sell something no one really wants to buy.

No sooner did we get all those Christmas ads off the air, the next swarm has hit.  Yes, it’s Tax Time.

To make the annual torture as painless as possible, lots of people turn to companies like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt to do their taxes.  Do these tax prep companies really do a good job?  Or are you better off hiring a CPA or doing them yourself?

No, no, nonsense!  H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt would like you to trust them.

Aye, there’s the rub.  We know that that in 2007, Jackson Hewitt was sued by the federal government for fraud, only to file for bankruptcy protection in 2011.  And H&R Block’s long-running stream of scandals and questionable practices recently got itself ranked third from the bottom in a 2013 CoreBrand survey of least-respected brands.  Ouch.

So – here we have two companies with questionable reputations, each selling something many Americans don’t even want to think about.  To meet that challenge, both have hit the airwaves.  Who’s been better at it so far?  We’ve selected one spot from the new Jackson Hewitt series and the new H&R Block campaign.  Let’s take a look.

Production Values

jackson hewitt spot 1-1

Presumably, Atlanta’s 22squared is the genius behind Jackson Hewitt’s ads.  I say “presumably” because these spots have the look and feel of a Bob’s Discount Furniture commercial, and one expects better.  Is this person selling tax preparation or floor covering?  As for spokesperson Lindsey Sheppard’s connection to the tax biz, it’s unclear, but if television personality is her profession of choice, she should keep her day job.  (“Hey there…it’s me again.”  Annoying much?)

h&r block spot 1-2

H&R Block’s spots were produced by the creative team from Fallon.  This must have cost Block a pretty penny, but man, was it worth it.  These spots are Super Bowl-worthy and smartly executed – camera shots, music, the whole package is top-shelf.  And they again feature honest-to-god-real-tax-guy Richard Gartland, bow tie and all.  You just can’t help but feel good watching.

Bottom-line, the look of Jackson Hewitt’s campaign reinforces all things cheap and low quality…which is fine if you’re looking for a deal on a sofa-with-a-secret, but not if you’re trying to convince me that you can be trusted with my taxes.  Or, that your company is no longer worthy of its own audit by the IRS.  D

Block gets an A.  Their spot sells expertise.  Experience.  Excellence.  Whatever these guys may or may not have done in the past, they clearly look to be on top of their game now.

Creative Strategy

jackson hewitt spot 1-2

I’m trying hard to get to the substance of Jackson Hewitt’s creative, but it’s pretty darned thin.  “Switch-and-Save”?  That’s it?  Saving me some dough off the competition’s fee is nice, sure.  But that’s all about what I’m giving you.  What are you giving me?  And, please, no dancing.  Seriously, it’s not helping.  Another D.

HRB1

By contrast, Block’s “Get Your Billion Back America” delivers an irresistible message that anyone can connect with: one billion dollars in unclaimed tax refunds, left on the table.  Money that could have been mine or yours.  Fallon put that number in even more compelling real-world perspectives – for the “Stadium” spot, equating it to $500 in cash on every seat of every professional sports stadium in America.  Brilliant.  And at the end, there’s happy, friendly, trustworthy Richard Gartland, imploring:  “This is your money – get it back!”  A+

h&r block spot 1-3

Who do you trust?

Can these spots move the needle?  We can’t see how the Jackson Hewitt TV has any hope of recasting their brand…sorry, but while “cheap” works for Walmart (one of Jackson Hewett’s in-store locations), it’s not buying much trust.  I can only picture some poor guy explaining to an IRS auditor, “But I saved $50…”

H&R Block?  We all know that ultimately, it’s not what you say to people, it’s what you do.  If Block’s performance can meet the standards set by this pretty-darned-near perfect ad, they have a shot.

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