Last month H&R Block launched an ad campaign that angered many accountants. The ads, seen by some as disparaging to CPAs, encourage taxpayers to choose H&R Block over a CPA for the preparation of tax returns. A letter writing campaign in protest of the ads was initiated by the AICPA. And now H&R Block has announced that it has swapped one of the controversial ads from its national television campaign in favor of a more appropriate one for this point in the tax preparation season.
Whether the ad was swapped because of pressure from the AICPA or because it was part of a planned media strategy depends on who you ask.
One of the ads at issue depicts a woman who states that H&R Block found $2,000 in deductions that her CPA missed on a prior year tax return. Another ad shows a man walking down a dark, foreboding alley filled with flashing neon CPA signs. At the end of the alley is the welcoming, brightly lit H&R Block office.
Barry Melancon, president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, took particular offense at the ads and wrote a letter to H&R Block's president, Mark Ernst, on behalf of the 330,000 AICPA members. The letter claimed that the advertisements "cast a negative light on CPA professionals" and suggested that the ads "impugn the CPA profession."
State CPA societies across the country launched letter writing campaigns encouraging their members to register their displeasure with the H&R Block ads.
Lloyd Turman, CEO and Executive Director of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, also wrote a letter to Mr. Ernst, indicating displeasure over the advertisements and requesting that H&R Block "immediately stop using such a misleading advertising approach."
Geoffrey Pickard, vice president of communications for the AICPA, describes the alley in the ad as a "frightening looking street" and a "seedy looking environment." Linda McDougall, spokeswoman for H&R Block, disagreed with the description and said she wouldn't describe the alley as seedy. "What we're trying to show is just a bewildering array of choices a taxpayer faces," she said.
Mr. Ernst responded to Mr. Melancon by suggesting that, "What the profession most needs during this difficult period is strong leadership and an unwavering commitment to serving its clients responsibly and ethically" and encouraging the AICPA "to help its members focus on these very important goals rather than nitpicking H&R Block’s advertising." You may view the full text of the letter from Mark Ernst to Barry Melancon.
Nevertheless, H&R Block has withdrawn the dark alley television ad, but indicated that it has replaced the ad with another, thought to be more appropriate for this stage of the tax preparation season. Mr. Melancon has issued a follow-up letter to Mr. Ernst indicating his satisfaction with H&R Block's decision to pull one ad, but stipulating in an open letter to the AICPA membership that "we won't be satisfied until the other ad stops running."