H&R Block’s TV Ads Prompt Sharp Letter From AICPA

The scope of the AICPA's role as protector of the "CPA" designation has just widened a bit to include Madison Avenue, and its portrayal of the accounting profession. Specifically, the AICPA has been dismayed at the image of the CPA portrayed in television ads by one of its own - H&R Block.

In a letter prompted by "hundreds of member complaints," AICPA President Barry Melancon has urged H&R Block Chairman Mark Ernst to remove the "disparaging" television ads that portray CPAs as non-thorough, and - in one ad - sleazy.

One of the ads in question show a person walking down a dark, threatening alley, with dozens of flashing neon signs for "CPA" and "Prestige CPA" beckoning the confused taxpayer before he finally arrives at an H&R Block office, portrayed as a safe haven for all the confusion that's out there. Another ad shows a woman who brought in a previous year's tax return and the H&R Block representative finds an extra $2000 in savings that the woman's CPA failed to detect.

Reuters quotes Doug Stives, a CPA as saying, "I frankly don't know any CPAs that have neon lights and who would be in a sleazy section of town, and it just implies that we're doing something that's not professional."

"I sincerely hope your copywriters were not trying to capitalize on the unfortunate situation some large accounting firms are in, which has nothing to do with tax preparation or the thousands of small CPA firms that deliver quality tax services," writes Melancon. "To impugn the CPA profession in your ads is to impugn 330,000 individuals, some of whom are your own employees."

The AICPA is encouraging its members to write to H&R Block Chairman Ernst, the Better Business Bureau and the state consumer protection agency.

"They've chosen to make a campaign of this but they have no basis ... other than that they seem to have some complaints from their membership," said Block spokesperson Bob Schneider.

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