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H&R Block Goes Hollywood

"People were being lulled to sleep." No, that's not a description from the folks who make Ambien, but Tom Allanson, head of H&R Block digital tax solutions (the title alone makes you want to yawn), who I recently spoke to about how they reimagined the droning online tax experience. The problem, Allanson admitted: doing taxes online was so boring people were actually screwing them up.

So H&R decided to turn to Rob Legato, an Oscar-winning visual effects director for films including The Departed, Apollo 13, and The Aviator—a master storyteller who had made a career out of keeping audiences at the edge of their seats. Legato's Hollywood advice? H&R needed some good old-fashioned "conflict" in their story.

Suddenly the "IRS" became the antagonist and you, the user, the protagonist. The conflict: "Every week the IRS takes one-third of your paycheck. Now it's your turn to take it back" (it literally now says that H&R's website). "We had to be very careful as we built the story because we couldn’t portray the IRS as evil," explains Allanson, yet having enough chutzpah to infuse the story with some spice. While it’s subtle, now users navigating through their recently-released Tango tax program, are actually navigating through a traditional story arch (establish conflict, escalate conflict, and resolve conflict). And hopefully, making out like bandits.