Super Bowl Watch: H&R Block’s CMO on IBM Watson Ad With Jon Hamm


H&R Block / IBM Watson / Jon Hamm / Super Bowl 2017 commercial spot ad

Following an eight-year hiatus from the Big Game, H&R Block is advertising in the Super Bowl to promote some big news — a game-changing partnership with IBM Watson.

The artificial intelligence platform is available starting today in all its locations to given even more big data intelligence to its tax pros, with a new customer experience that lets clients participate in the process.

The partnership is being advertised with a Super Bowl 51 spot starring Jon Hamm, continuing his “Get Your Taxes Won” campaign.

For more, Interbrand Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Sullivan spoke with Kathy Collins, CMO of H&R Block.

Sullivan: Kathy, how does the Super Bowl spot tie into your “Get Your Taxes Won” campaign that launched late last year?

Kathy Collins - Chief Marketing Officer, H&R BlockCollins (right): We did not have a good tax season last year so we knew we were going to have to do things very differently. And we knew whatever we did was going to have to be bold, so that’s why we have a new value proposition, new campaign, Jon Hamm, new offers both for the DIY and retail side of the business. This Watson piece came around because when we were talking about the “Get Your Taxes Won” campaign, and what does that really mean? It means that people are just trying to get their taxes done and they’re leaving money on the table, and they’re missing credits and deductions.

In addition to the Super Bowl spot, our clients will start noticing this as we have window banners that call out the partnership, and on the door there’s a cling that says “H&R Block With Watson.” You’ll see it in advertising and other places too. It goes live in all our offices on Sunday, February 5th. IBM is doing some advertising for the partnership as well in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

H&R Block Super Bowl IBM Watson 2017

Sullivan: How did the partnership with Watson come around?

Collins: This whole idea of artificial intelligence came up in conversation, and (H&R Block CEO) Bill Cobb and I both had this feeling of ‘Wait a minute, what could this mean for us?’ The tax pros must stay at the core of our business, where the judgment and the expertise comes from, and we have such great tax pros. But what we love about Watson is it’s all about man and machine. They’re not trying to replace the tax pros with an (Amazon) Alexa or anything, it was just how could we enhance what our tax pros are already bringing?

Sullivan: What does AI do that your tax professions can’t?

Collins: It really is remarkable technology, but the cool part of it is it’s still about our tax pros. So the client experience now when the client comes in the door is completely different. So when they sit down at the desk, the retail environment is changed. What used to happen is a tax pro would take your papers and you’d sit there and they’d enter the information and ask you some questions and you’d go from there.

Now the client sits down, they have their own monitor, and it’s actually bigger than the tax pro’s monitor. On their monitor, they’re watching their financial situation come to life. So the tax pro is being prompted, partially by Watson, to ask certain questions. So Watson would know, for example, that you’re a farmer from Iowa and it can quickly scan for other farmers from Iowa and here are the things that they’ve deducted. So it puts a prompt in front of the tax pro, and the tax pro will ask, ‘Did you buy any of the following things this year? And did you know you could deduct this?”

Sullivan: How is it giving our tax pros even more capabilities?

Collins: It’s really an amazing technology as Watson can scan hundreds of millions of data points—all 74,000 pages of the US tax code, thousands of annual tax law changes and  and then prompt the tax pro to ask the right questions. You might say, ‘couldn’t your tax pros do that already?’ Some of them could. But would everybody think to ask every single question? And it’s in real time, and the client experience is just so much better because they’ve got their own monitor and they’re watching, so they’re also seeing things that could prompt them to ask more questions.

At the end of their experience, after we celebrate their refund—85% of our clients get refunds, while 75% of the country gets refunds—Watson also pops up some tax tips for the coming year, with some things you should think about for the next 365 days. It also helps our client experience so much. We’ve been piloting this in about 150 offices and we’re already seeing client satisfaction ratings move up and engagement level, and our tax pro satisfaction is going up at an even quicker pace. It’s not adding a lot of time, either. It might add a minute or two to the interview but not ten.

AS: What was the initial reaction from the tax pros?

KC: 35% of our network is franchisees, so we told our franchise leadership council and they couldn’t have been more positive. I got text messages saying ‘this is the coolest thing.’ The great thing is they’re already trained on it, they just didn’t know it was Watson because we didn’t have the logo on it. Once we told them that, they were really excited. We were nervous because we don’t want them to think we’re going to replace them. Of course we’re not. We’re just giving them the best tools. We have 10,600 offices and this has been in 150 being tested, and so we know it’s a game-changer.

It’s the whole reason we decided to advertise on the Super Bowl — we have big news. In the Super Bowl spot you see a little bit of the experience. It’s 60 seconds, it’s a little more serious, it does have Jon Hamm in it. It feels big, it’s a little more dramatic, which may stand out from other Super Bowl spots. It’s not funny, there’s no puppies or babies, but it will get people’s attention, and when they see Jon Hamm it will connect the dots back to the first part of the campaign.

Follow how H&R Block is spreading the word — use #BlockWithWatson on Twitter:

Click here for more of our Super Bowl coverage and here for more brand leader Q&As.