It’s tax time again, and that means the usual round of dreary 1040-related campaigns about e-filing deadlines and audits, right?
In fact, the promotions this year are far from dreary. Tax prep firms such as H&R Block and tax software makers like Intuit are extending themselves to reach young filers and capture their brand loyalty with lively promotions.
For two years, Intuit’s TurboTax has run Web “tax rap” and stand-up “tax laugh” contests. This year it’s making an effort to lower the entry barriers further and to bridge the online/offline gap. The new “SuperStatus” contest (at www.SuperStatus.com) offers a weekly challenge in which players have to answer a question — for example, “Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever found money?”
Trick is, they must answer using the status update feature inside Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, which means they can use a maximum of only 140 characters. They also have to get the answer in before a countdown clock on the site hits zero, and they must use the TurboTax name in their answers.
Weekly challenge winners are selected by judges on the basis of the relevance of their answers, their creativity, and how effectively they use social media — which translates largely into how many friends or followers they have on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Weekly prizes have so far included $100 cash awards, guitars signed by Grammy Award performers, and a trip to the “Heroes” TV set in Los Angeles.
All entrants in the weekly challenges will also be entered for the grand SuperStatus prize, to be awarded after the games close on April 13: a check for three-times the amount of their federal tax refund (or their federal tax due), up to $25,000.
“There’s skill in expressing yourself well in 140 characters or less,” says Seth Greenberg, online marketing director for Intuit. “Their friends may or may not know that they’re entering a contest, but they can see that they’re talking about TurboTax in a positive way and hopefully becoming influencers to their networks.”
At about the same time, TurboTax also launched its “Freeloader Nation” page inside the MySpace network at www.myspace.com/turbotax. The page offers free music downloads, access to a free online version of TurboTax federal tax software, and the ability to sign up for brand-sponsored MySpace Secret Shows, held weekly through March and featuring big-name acts in intimate venues. Entry to the TurboTax shows is on a first-come basis; to be eligible, entrants need to list TurboTax among their top MySpace friends, print out their friend pages, and then bring those pages to the concert.
“Our PR department came up with the idea of ‘Freeloader Nation’ as an offline campaign to delight people by getting them into expensive events for free,” Greenberg says. “We said, let’s take the offline PR idea and make it digital.”
And useful, too. The Freeloader nation site on MySpace contains a mix of entertainment and practical content. There’s a music video from omnipresent YouTube performer Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday, free MP3 downloads of music such as a new single from The Fray, and videos of past TurboTax-branded Secret Shows. But it also offers a community Q&A space for very detailed tax questions and a link to the TurboTax Twitter account — where brand reps are resolving issues with individual returns and receiving praise and complaints about the company’s software.
Tax firm H&R Block is also making strong use of Twitter, answering user questions and linking back to its main Web site and content about the tax impact of the new stimulus package. But it’s also tapping brand fans. Right after airing its Super Bowl commercial featuring Death firing his accountant, Block ran a contest on Twitter: The first five respondents to guess who provided the voice of the Grim Reaper won copies of its TaxCut software.
Block reportedly picked up about 60 Twitter followers with the Super Bowl ad promo. No word on what it did for the reputation of Abe Vigoda, who voiced the TV spot’s Death.
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