Inside TurboTax’s Super Bowl Attempt To Re-Brand Doing Your Taxes

Watching the Super Bowl can be a bitter experience for some–but at least TurboTax allows those people to do their taxes during the game.

Inside TurboTax’s Super Bowl Attempt To Re-Brand Doing Your Taxes

TurboTax’s Super Bowl ad certainly had its pulse on one segment of the population: The part of the audience that thinks that watching the Super Bowl is a depressing exercise in futility, and it’d be a lot more fun to do your taxes, instead.

That’s the scenario laid out–without irony–by the home tax-prep software’s spot, which features a voice that sounds very much like John C. Reilly explaining, in his charming, conversational, down-to-earth way that if you weren’t a Broncos or Seahawks fan, there’s an element of sadness in watching a team that isn’t the one you root for on the biggest stage–while if you’re in the 75% of Americans who receive a refund at tax time, entering your W2 information into your laptop is a simple hoop you have to jump through in order to receive what may be the biggest check you get all year.

The Super Bowl ad follows another Reilly-narrated spot in the new TurboTax campaign called “The Year Of You,” that seeks to rebrand tax time as a chance to celebrate what your year was like–and pocket a sizable refund in the process. It’s a counter-intuitive approach to tax products, which have tended to assume that the word “taxes” and the specter of the IRS left viewers in a panic, and attempted to sympathize with their presumed hatred of one of the only two things in life that Benjamin Franklin declared to be certain in this world.

“We have such intense business in the early season, culminating at the Super Bowl,” explains Greg Johnson, TurboTax’s Vice-President of Market. “There is the human truth in the role that tax return plays in people’s lives, but what’s weird about it is that people have a lot of anxiety–they distrust themselves and the software, because so much is riding on it. We feel like that’s ridiculous, because we design products that make it easy for consumers to get back more of what’s theirs.”

In order to convey that message, TurboTax worked with Wieden + Kennedy Portland, which crafted a campaign that challenge the reflexive cultural implication of taxes. And, if they’re pushing the idea that taxes aren’t such a scary thing, being counter-intuitive in another way made sense for them when it came time to craft a Super Bowl spot.

Mike Giepert, creative director for Wieden + Kennedy Portland, felt like the Super Bowl was the perfect opportunity to challenge conventional thinking. “The Super Bowl was just perfect timing,” he explains. “It’s right around the time that everyone starts to get their W-2’s in, and we learned pretty early on that it was a huge weekend for people to do their taxes. The insight that we came upon is that while you’re watching the game, it’s actually something that could be very painful: You love football, and to see a team playing in the game that beat your team on the way to get there is something that really will catch your attention. The fact that there’s this connection that you could potentially get the biggest paycheck of your year while you’re watching the game–it felt like a really huge opportunity.”


Of course, every fan has had at least two weeks to make their peace with the fact that their team won’t be playing in the Super Bowl (or, if they’re Browns fans, several decades). And if you’re a 49ers fan sad to see a hated rival going for big-game glory, you’ve probably got a lot of passion in rooting against the Seahawks–and Wieden+Kennedy Portland creative director Dan Kroeger points out that there’s more to the spot–and the campaign–than just “football bad, taxes good.”

“If you take a step back, it’s actually bigger than taxes–that’s what’s so exciting about it. This is a product that’s made to allow people to do things for themselves and be self-sufficient. That’s the opposite of what everyone else is trying to get you to do. The concept of ‘it’s amazing what you’re capable of’ is bigger than taxes–and that’s a really fun and powerful thing to play with to motivate people,” Kroeger says. That’s a theme that resonates especially well when watching athletes strive for glory against the odds, too, which makes the timing work.

That timing is also why TurboTax and Wieden+Kennedy decided to buck the trend of recent years and not release their ad online in advance of the game. “We’re telling a timely story,” Kroeger explains. “It’s about that day, and the nature of that day. It talks about the two teams in the game, and to release it early would kind of destroy the thin illusion that it’s made in that moment. I think if you saw that in advance, it wouldn’t be as special.”

Ultimately, the Super Bowl spots we remember the most are the ones that buck conventional thinking and challenge our notions of what it is that appeals to us–whether it’s Office Linebacker Terry Tate clobbering people coming out of the break room, a horrifying baby offering investment advice, or Mean Joe Green proving the power of a Coke and a smile. Time will tell if TurboTax’s “Love Hurts” spot will land among the classics, but it’s got the elements in place.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.