March Madness in Paid Search Advertising

In anticipation of this year’s April 17 tax deadline, Kantar Media examined U.S. tax preparation advertising over the last three months in two key media, television and paid search, and a found a single player leading both, Intuit’s TurboTax.

In television, it was a two-horse race. Between January 2 and April 4, Kantar Media data shows tax preparation advertisers spent more than $192 million on television commercials across U.S. national, cable and Spanish language TV, with TurboTax accounting for $93.4 million or nearly 49% of the total. Its closest competitor was H&R Block, whose $81.2 million spend accounted for some 42% of the total. To provide additional perspective on the two advertisers’ dominance of TV, their closest competitors during the period were Jackson Hewitt, which spent just $8.8 million on TV ads, followed by TaxSlayer and Credit Karma, which each spent $2.4 million.

In terms of creative, TurboTax’s TV campaign featured horror film spoof ads that start out a little frightening before reassuring viewers there is “nothing to be afraid of” when filing your taxes with TurboTax.


In contrast, H&R Block ran humorous commercials featuring the actor Jon Hamm extolling H&R Block’s services on his various film sets.


Interestingly, roughly half of H&R Block’s TV commercial creative specifically positioned its online filing software against TurboTax. One spot, for instance, tells viewers, “Unlike TurboTax, H&R Block More Zero lets you file online for free even if you itemize deductions.” (Even the name of H&R Block’s online filing product ,“More Zero”, seems purposefully designed to position its product against TurboTax’s “Absolute Zero” product.)

However, if such efforts were meant to boost H&R Block’s online standing against TurboTax, it may not have had the desired effect; in our concurrent study of paid search advertising, Kantar Media data shows Turbo Tax far-outperformed H&R Block during the same period, as well as all other players for that matter.



As part of the study, we analyzed U.S. Google desktop text ad clicks on 799 non-branded tax preparation-related keywords such as ‘irs’, ‘free tax filing’, ‘taxes’, ‘tax return’ and ‘tax preparation’ from January 4 through April 4, and found that TurboTax.com received a commanding 35.6% of all clicks on the keyword group.* (In addition, parent company site Intuit.com, which promoted TurboTax in some of its paid search ads during the period, gained an additional 4.3% click share.)

For comparison, HRBlock.com ranked second with a respectable but distant 13.2% click share, followed by TaxAct.com (8.7% click share) and E-File.com (7.5% click share).

Notably, unlike in its television ads, H&R Block’s paid search ad creative did not specifically position its online filing software against TurboTax. According to Kantar Media data, the paid search ads H&R Block served on the non-branded keywords during the period exclusively focused on the benefits of its software solution and service, including free filing online.



*Kantar Media’s paid search advertising study is limited to U.S. Google desktop text ad activity on the 799 non-branded tax preparation-related keywords cited; advertisers appearing in the study may have sponsored additional keywords during the period that, if measured, would alter the results of this study.




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