Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tax season in Bizarro World

Does this sort of sales tactic happen on a routine basis? I guess it must, since H&R Block has built a whole series of television and radio commercials around it.

Salesman: This is one of the best cameras we have in stock. It has phenomenal optics- here, hold that. Super sharp images, and you can have it for free.

Announcer: Imagine if you could get the best for free.

Customer: (laughs) Sounds too good to be true.

Salesman: Yeah, it is too good to be true. That would be insane. To give our best stuff away for free?

Announcer: At H&R Block, we're serious. We believe you deserve the best tax preparation available for free.

At the point of the "reveal" that the salesman was lying, I'm feeling confused, and also kind of irritated, uncomfortable and embarrassed on behalf of the customers. (I know they're most likely actors, but the commercial is setting us up as if they are actual customers, and thus those are the sort of emotions being pulled up for me as a member of the audience.) When I feel embarrassed, I don't want to hang around for whatever the sales pitch is going to be- I just want to get away from that commercial as quickly as possible. If this blog didn't exist, I wouldn't even have bothered to find out who actually made the commercial.

Salesman: How's it going?

Customer: Good, how are you?

Salesman: Good. Have you seen this? This is the best bike we have. Top spec gears, super light frame.

Customer: I love it.

Salesman: Right now, you can have it for free.

Customer: Shut up.

Salesman: Free! Yeah!

Announcer: Imagine if you could get the best for free.

Customer: Oh this is, oh my god. This is mine?

Salesman: (Shakes head) No.

Customer: Shut up.

Salesman: I can't just give away my best stuff for free.

In the first commercial, we're told that it would be insane to give away the company's best stuff for free. In the second commercial, it's implied that the customer is stupid for falling for the pitch in the first place. So which message do you prefer- that your customers are stupid for believing that there is such a thing as a free lunch, or that your company is crazy for offering a free lunch in the first place?

In neither commercial is it explained what the purpose would be of using such a bait-and-switch tactic in the first place, although the writers seem aware that customers would not like it, as the radio version of the second ad ends with the annoyed customer asking "Is this your idea of a joke?", to which the salesman flatly replies "Yes. Yes it is. Ha ha." How could you possibly salvage a sale after this opening? "Anyway, the bike's really $2,000. But you love it, right? So you still want it, right? Right? Where are you going?" In essence, H&R Block is setting itself up in contrast ("we're serious") to fantasy stores and salespersons who would never behave this way- at least, not if they wanted to actually sell anything.


capewood said...

I saw the camera one but tuned it out and didn't realize who the sponsor was. My guess is that this is really a bait and switch. The customer comes in expecting a free tax return. The add says you get a 'simple' federal tax return for free. My guess is you can get a 1040A from for free. The first thing you'll hear is that you're not eligible to submit a 1040A but we can do the 1040 for you for $19.95 (or whatever). Or, you are eligible for a 1040A but let us do a long form because we think you can save money on your taxes that way. You live somewhere with state income tax? Well sure we can do that, but not for free.

Anonymous said...

"Top spec gears" on a single speed bike, generic "urban" bike shop guy with knit cap and girl jeans, and perfect bike shopping weather by looks of girls winter coat.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the ad just makes me think that whatever you're getting for "free" from H&R Block, must not be their actual 'best', but some bottom of the line crap to drag you in for a bait and switch. They just *told* me 'nobody gives away their best stuff for free'. Somehow, I believe them.

Knitwear M. Groundhog said...

"The student has become the teacher."

Anonymous said...

Lol just thought I'd add its even worse. It's only a 1040EZ.

Nearly EVERYONE allows you to e-file a 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ for free. Way to go H&R Block.. looks like you are playing catching up, ya jackass.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about this commercial. Honestly I find most commercials now to be overtly patronizing. Perhaps their tactic is to insult you so much you won't forget their ad. The only thing it motivated me to do was to spend five minutes surfing to see if anyone else also thought they sucked.

If ads would spend more time on telling me what they are actually selling and less on trying to mindf*ck me into an emotional response I would probably spend a lot more on their products.