With 2020 finally in the rearview mirror, Americans are now faced with the yearly tradition of struggling to understand the country’s endlessly complex tax code and what it means for each of us.
For tax filing service TurboTax, the arrival of 2021 also signals the start of its annual three-and-a-half month sprint to win the business of American taxpayers.
TurboTax, one of the several business and financial services offered by Intuit, today released four 30-second spots—two in English and two in Spanish—to kick off its seasonal campaign, “Straight to You,” created by Wieden+Kennedy.
In each spot, perplexed taxpayers find their questions promptly answered by a TurboTax Live expert, who arrives atop an apparently self-propelled computer desk to virtually discuss various filing questions in real time. Queries range from deductions and dependents to how to file with multiple sources of income.
While the self-propelled desk isn’t really part of TurboTax’s offerings, the live expert is. Taxpayers can choose to virtually speak with an expert about their filing options and questions, or opt to have them complete the filing—a service that TurboTax is offering for the first time this year.
“It’s important to note—and this is a unique constraint of the tax category—we have about 13 weeks in market,” TurboTax vp of marketing Cathleen Ryan told Adweek. “We have to make a big impact, and get our message and our brand positioning out there, fast.”
The campaign will culminate in a 2021 Super Bowl spot on Feb. 7, and at least two more spots will be released throughout the season.
Last year, TurboTax’s Super Bowl ad featured a rap dance number, “All People Are Tax People,” a playful anthem of encouragement to taxpayers who harbor anxiety around the complexities of filing.
However, last year’s campaign was released just a few months after a 2019 ProPublica investigation revealed how Intuit has lobbied to prevent the government from creating its own free tax filing system, while at the same time pushing consumers to pay for services they didn’t need.
Tax filing software represents a $31 billion industry—one that TurboTax has dominated since 1993, per ProPublica’s reporting. In response to the investigation, the Internal Revenue Service made several reforms in late 2019 that addressed some of the issues, and multiple federal, state and civil probes into Intuit’s practices are ongoing.
While TurboTax declined to comment on how the ProPublica reports have impacted its branding and advertising, Ryan noted the continuity from its 2020 campaign into this year. Both are about “overcoming that barrier of lacking confidence” when filing taxes, she said. While “All People Are Tax People” emphasized the inherent ability of each taxpayer, this year’s focus on TurboTax Live experts represents a natural progression to include more of the brand’s offerings.
“There are a lot of tax filers out there that need the help and the confidence of a tax expert along the way,” Ryan said. “We still have pretty big brand perceptions to shift, from our traditional roots of DIY online software to having a virtual expert platform where consumers can interact with our tax experts at the touch of the button, at their convenience.”