Joe O’Rourke and I used to enjoy reading Bob Garfield’s ad reviews in Advertising Age when we both worked in ad sales at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Here is Garfield’s review of a new ad campaign.
“Millions of Americans are intimidated or overwhelmed by this annual [tax prep] chore, and H&R Block is right there for them. The genius of the campaign is how well it understands the “them.” The ads are populated with the financially unsophisticated. They are young or working-class, living in modest urban apartments or rural trailers.
“I got people,” says the copy-shop guy.
“I got people,” says the mailman.
“I got people,” says the young hubby in his garden apartment.
“I got people,” says the elderly waiter.
A financial entourage.
But it’s not just “Don’t worry, it’s taken care of.” To a person, these characters and those around them are impressed with the idea of having access — just like rich folks — to someone who can swoop in and do the taking-care-of. To this audience, H&R Block isn’t an overpriced form-filler-outer. It’s a financial entourage. Thus has Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, succeeded in turning a down-market purchase into a point of pride. Like those Members Only jackets from the ’80s, only not excruciatingly pitiful.
You could argue this is condescending or exploitative, but we think not. The value of a good or service is exactly that which the purchaser places on it. If the consumer believes H&R Block confers prestige, then, by God, it does.
This is, of course, not a dark, hilarious joke. Nor did it reanimate any dead Midwesterners, nor will it get anyone gold — or laid — in Cannes. It’s just the best selling idea we’ve seen in at least five years.