How #TaxesWon Jon Hamm: Q&A With H&R Block CMO Kathy Collins


H&R Block - Get Your Taxes Won - 2016 - Jon Hamm TV commercials

In an unexpected present to fans of Mad Men and Jon Hamm — and to anyone who’s not enamored with doing their own taxes — H&R Block released a double treat on Christmas Day: two commercials featuring the award-winning actor known for his portrayal of Don Draper.

As Hamm states in the “Blow It Up” spot, “The old way of taxes isn’t good enough. So we’re about to blow it up. Don’t just get your taxes done. Get your taxes won.” The Get Your Taxes Won campaign, which will continue rolling out new creative (by its agency of record, Fallon) through tax day, marks a bold new direction for the brand.

H&R Block / Jon Hamm / Get Your Taxes Done campaign

Case in point: H&R Block has been directly rebutting the advertising claims of its biggest competitor, Intuit’s TurboTax, with tweets last week addressing its campaign with actress Kathy Bates.

The global consumer tax services provider, which has prepared more than 680 million tax returns since 1955, says it has a retail office within five miles of most Americans during tax season. In fiscal 2015, it posted revenues over $3.1 billion and prepared 24.2 million tax returns worldwide.

But as Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Kathy Collins told Interbrand CMO Andrea Sullivan, they’re not happy to rest on those laurels and have ambitious plans to grow market share and make more noise this year.

Andrea Sullivan: This is the first time you’ve used a celebrity, if I’m not mistaken. Why change that this year?

Kathy Collins - Chief Marketing Officer, H&R BlockKathy Collins (right): We had been running a campaign that was very focused on “It’s refund season, get your refund back.” It was very celebratory, and our spokesperson was one of our own tax professionals, and it worked for us really, really well. Then last year we had a tough season, so we knew we needed to do some big things around innovation and technology, client experience and campaign.

So we took a step back and we redefined our brand value proposition. We looked at what everybody else in the category had been saying and doing and realized there was a big gap that only H&R Block could fill, and that is navigating the complexity of the tax code and helping every client make sure that they get the right answer.

So that ended up morphing into “Get Your Taxes Won.” It’s no surprise our competitors are saying taxes are easy—here’s a checklist, get it over with—because we know that half the time, people are making errors and leaving money behind.

H&R Block Get Your Taxes Done 2016

So there’s a huge opportunity. H&R Block founded the category, and we’ve got more experience and expertise than anyone. But we realized we had this opportunity to help people understand that. Jon Hamm says it perfectly—there are lots of ways to fill out your tax return and the IRS will accept them all. They’re not going to come back and say, “You overpaid.”

But there’s only one best way to get you the best outcome, and that’s what “Get Your Taxes Won” is all about. It’s really our value proposition, everything we’re doing, everything we’re saying, all the people out in our 10,000 offices and what they are trying to do for their clients—to get their taxes won, make sure they don’t miss a credit or deduction, no loopholes they can’t get around, and make sure they get the most back or pay the least in.

Jon Hamm for H&R Block #TaxesWon campaign January 2016

That’s what this new campaign is all about—we knew we needed to have a different look and feel to surround that. Chapter 1 is about reclaiming our leadership proposition, chapter 2 is all about our products and offers, and chapter 3 is about our expertise.

We’re really lucky to have Jon Hamm. He has never done TV commercial work, beyond voiceovers for Mercedes-Benz, and this was the first time he’s been on-camera for a brand—we feel like we won. He was also an H&R Block client for many years, we later found out!

AS: What’s the response been like to the campaign so far?

KC: Very positive. The first 11 days we saw random brand demand go up in search and web clicks, and we also saw that social media was 89% positive in terms of Jon Hamm and the campaign, for men and women alike. So we feel really good, but it’s still very early in this tax season.

The first chapter introduced him and the idea of “getting your taxes won” in two ads.

In Chapter 2, we have three offers this season that we’re talking about.

The first is called Refund Advance, which is an advance on your refund. The IRS is delaying a lot of refunds this year, especially to lower-income families.

The IRS is delaying a lot of refunds this year, especially to lower-income families. The tax filers who take the earned income tax credit are basically the working poor and those refunds are being delayed until the end of February. That’s why the Refund Advance is so great, because people can get an advance of up to $1,250 at no interest, no fees.

Free EZ, the second new offer, is a free federal 1040EZ, so if you have an EZ form, you get it prepared and filed for free, which is a big deal.

The third offer is called H&R Block More Zero. We are going up against TurboTax, that’s no secret, and they introduced a product called Absolute Zero a couple of years ago.

H&R Block’s More Zero actually takes it a step further, so filers who are doing their own taxes who file a 1040EZ or 1040 with Schedule A—six out of 10 do-it-yourself filers—are basically getting a free federal and state return. it is a great product.

AS: The brand is being more outspoken this tax season on social media, Twitter and Facebook, to counter the TurboTax campaign. How did your executive team, and a culture that has been relatively risk-averse to this point, embrace that?

KC: We’re being bold this year. It’s really important that we stand out as the experts in this category. In one of their TV spots they were giving the wrong tax advice, so that’s why we thought we’d have a little fun and point out that it was not the right advice. We want to make sure we stand out as experts regardless of channel.

Our CEO Bill Cobb, who calls himself Jersey Bill, came to our company in the Midwest and tells the employees, who are more conservative: ‘You all need a little more Jersey in you. You’re all too nice!’ It’s his leadership style to say, “Let’s punch it up. We want to win this year. We’ve got the greatest products and should be proud of everything we’re doing.” And he’s right. So he pushed us a little bit.

We’ve been using an internal rallying cry of “Let’s Go!” Two simple words but everybody in our company, everybody who touches the business, will say it 20 times a day. Whatever inspires us, whenever we debate doing something on social media or television, we look at each other and say “Let’s go!” So there’s definitely a good vibe and a lot of momentum right now. Everybody wants to win.

AS: Can you tell us about what’s next in the “Get Your Taxes Won” campaign?

KC: The third chapter will roll out in the beginning of February, and it really is all about our expertise. That’s where you’ll see a more dramatic Jon Hamm, if you will, talking about our tax professionals and our expertise and how that all comes together. If you think about the tax season, that’s when the more complex filers come in and when that expertise is needed even more. So Chapter 3 is again about what we can do to help you get your taxes won.

AS: And what are you doing that’s new in customer experience and innovation?

KC: We’re launching a new product (TaxEdge) on Jan. 12 which is all about the next generation of tax preparation. So there is a technology element, a data element and a people element all rolled into one. It’s really about: How are people going to want to go through this process two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years from now? We’re working on a couple of different paths. But what’s interesting is that the large majority of people still want help doing their taxes and also still want the face-to-face aspect. So while you can do that through mobile, is it going to deliver the same experience and the right experience.

Get more branding insights in our Q&A series