Rank’s Model of Analysis

H&R Block is currently running an ad campaign for their Second Look program. The theme of the campaign is “Never Settle For Less,” a reference to receiving more from your tax return even if you already filed your taxes with another agency or did them yourself. Each ad follows the same formula, starting with showing an applicant who talks about why they decided to try Second Look, then they talk about what they would do with their extra money and finally the ad shows what looks like a cross between a rewards ceremony and a game show where the applicant stands up in front of the crowd and opens an envelope showing how much money they received (usually in the $1000-$2000 range). There are a lot of different forms of persuasion at use in these ads, but let’s see how Rank’s model applies.

Of the six applicants that are highlighted, each received an average of $2,684, with the largest amount being $8,635. Who wouldn’t want that much free money? The idea that you can go to H&R Block and have them look at your taxes and get back a couple thousand dollars is a pretty powerful incentive to try their program. But, they are intensifying their strongest point! If you look at the small, gray type at the bottom of the screen, you’ll notice that it says, “94 of the 223 returns we reviewed in Detroit, MI Second Look event showed tax overpayment, and the average amount of overpayment was $1057.” With some math trickery, they hid the fact that out of all the returns that they reviewed for this event (notice, there is no word on if the applicants were screened for likelihood of overpayment), the actual average is $446 rather than $2,684, and 129 of the applicants received no additional money. So, in reality, you have less than a 50% chance of getting anything back at all, let alone thousands of dollars.

Another portion of the small, gray text displayed at the bottom of the screen states, “Fees apply for Second Look® reviews and if you have us prepare a corrected or amended return.” I looked on H&R Block’s website, and the initial fee is $29, which you will still owe, even if they do not find any overpayment. And, if they do find an overpayment, they’ll charge you again to actually re-file your taxes. The average cost of filing your taxes with H&R Block was $189 in 2010, according to the H&R Block’s annual shareholder report. To counter this ‘bad point’, the advertisement has one of the applicants (Albert) mentions that Second Look was offered to him for free, which it was ... for a limited time, and for only 223 people in Detroit. The rest of us would have to pay.

In one ad, a quilt shop owner mentions that “I don’t like doing taxes, I did them online, there’s a lot that I guessed at, and I have a feeling I guessed wrong.” If you believed these advertisements, why would you ever do your own taxes? Taxes can be confusing and complex, and these advertisements definitely play on this fear of “doing your taxes wrong.” The entire goal behind the Second Look program is to show that you can get back more from H&R Block than you could by doing them yourself, using a free online service or having a “friend of a friend” do them for you. The ads make it a point to specifically name these competitors, and then show the happy H&R Block customer walking away with lots of money (as if H&R Block was the one giving away the money!).

The last leg of Rank’s model is to downplay the opposition’s good points. First off, no mention is made of the 129 people whose taxes had been done as well or even ‘better’ than H&R Block could. I feel like I covered this pretty well earlier, so let’s move on. Although the ads do mention the cheaper price of doing your own taxes, they do so with a negative light, emphasizing the idea that “you get what you pay for.” In reality, the IRS has multiple workshops, free resources, and tax advisers that are all available for those who are filing their own taxes.

These ads persuade the viewer by downplaying the plus side to doing your own taxes, by emphasizing how confusing taxes are, by emphasizing the potential monetary reward for having H&R Block look at your taxes, and by downplaying the potential costs associated with the review.

H&R Block. (n.d.). Second Look® Review. H&R Block Tax Services. Retrieved February 2, 2012 from http://www.hrblock.com/offices/tax-services-second-look-review.html
H&R Block. (2011, January 5). Never Settle for Less: Theresa- Quilt Store Owner [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo8HTnNcx-U
H&R Block. (2011, December 22). Never Settle For Less - Albert [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVT3fNniS2E
H&R Block. (2012, January 13). Never Settle For Less- The Detroit Story [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDputtH_9qA

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