The “Tax Wars”—Competitive Advertising at its Best

Competitive advertising is one of the oldest, and seemingly one of the simplest forms of advertising. Whenever you have two or more companies selling similar products or services, it is easy for them to resort to saying, “Ours is superior because…” or “Their’s is not as good as ours, because…” However, doing great competitive advertising takes strategy and skill.

That’s because great competitive advertising is engaging enough and clever enough that the consumer forgets the negative campaigning or chest thumping that it really is. Take for example the popular “Number One-Selling” claim. It may not be an easy feat to achieve (becoming #1), but just like scoring a touchdown, once the feat is accomplished, it is easier to do the victory dance than it is to let your silent run past the opposing team do all the talking for you.

Last year, we were introduced to a new competition; this one between Turbo Tax and H&R Block. Since its inception, Turbo Tax has lured the DIY (“do it yourself”) crowd. H&R Block appeals to the masses that won’t do it themselves (or feel a tax professional is too expensive); Turbo Tax appeals to the masses that want to do it themselves.

In last year’s war, we saw Turbo Tax creatively telling people to “cut out the middleman” with various clients sitting in their tax advisor’s office and taking away the computer keyboard as the advisor faded away. H&R Block replied by putting the following question in viewers’ minds: “Who’s going to help you if you get stuck?” In the end, H&R Block joked: “Ask the box” to help you when you get stuck.

This year, H&R Block has upped the ante. By communicating about their own DIY products available online, they are appealing to the DIY consumer, with the additional backing of live help should you get stuck.

The battle is just warming up. As the April deadline approaches, look for more competitive creative to be presented and more TV dollars to be spent in the “Tax Wars.” Both competitors will fight the battle by continuing to position each other, thereby positioning themselves. In the end, they’ll both be boasting, “We’re better”—they’ll just be doing it in a way that’s creative enough to make you forget.


(originally written Q1 2008)

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