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By christine BirKner | STAFF WRiTER


’stache Bash

h&r Block gives a nod to hipster hairiness to raise its brand’s coolness quotient the Problem

Making a 54-year-old brand more relevant to—and engaging for—millennials can be a trick, especially when the brand is associated with tax season. What’s fun about that? When H&R Block wanted to boost its awareness and relevance amongst 18- to 35-year-olds, rather than simply promoting its brand attributes such as security and effectiveness, it decided to display its sense of humor by creating a campaign based on a pop-culture phenomenon: mustaches. “H&R Block [has] an amazing amount of respect and acknowledgement as being experts, but it tends to be with our moms and grandfathers. For the younger generation who is doing their taxes differently or just has a different mindset, H&R Block isn’t as relevant,” says Scott Gulbransen, H&R Block’s director of social media. “Mustaches, especially with younger people, are in vogue. It’s a crazy thing. If you’re not 18 to 35, you don’t get it, but that’s exactly why we wanted to do it.”

the Fix

Typically associated with 1970s and ’80s cultural icons such as Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck, mustaches have resurfaced in recent years as a comedic cultural touchstone for 18- to 35-year-olds, migrating from Brooklyn and Astoria to St. Louis and Peoria. Young men are once again masking their upper lips in styles ranging from traditional to handlebar, and retailers now carry novelty items such as mustache-adorned T-shirts, mugs, sunglasses and posters. Mustaches have become a combination of style and schtick, a recognizable symbol of hipster irony popular in the post-college crowd from coast to coast, and Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block Inc. hoped that the renewed popularity of facial hair could make its brand a little hipper. On Jan. 20, 2012— Presidents Day— H&R Block introduced the Million Mustache March in support of the Stimulus to Allow Critical Hair Expenses (‘Stache) Act [sic], fake legislation that called for a $250 tax deduction for “mustached Americans” to account for the cost of mustache grooming supplies and “lost productivity” caused by mustache maintenance. “Shaving takes about three minutes per day and assuming an annual salary of $42,000, your daily shave costs you $1 in time,” according to the ‘Stache Act whitepaper. During the six-week campaign, designed to coincide with tax season, fans could show their support of the act by visiting, an H&R Block branded Facebook page where visitors could add past presidents’ mustache styles to their Facebook photos. For each participant,


the most epic mustache march in history

H&R Block made a donation to Millions from One, a Dallas-based charity that provides clean drinking water to subSaharan Africa. The campaign culminated in a Million Mustache March in Washington, D.C., on April 1. To develop the campaign, H&R Block teamed up with the American Mustache Institute (AMI), a tongue-in-whiskeredcheek online entity of Elasticity, a St. Louis-based digital marketing firm. “I created the American Mustache Institute with a few other people six years ago as a joke,” says Aaron Perlut, managing partner at Elasticity. “We built the site and the community around it with the purpose that someday it would be perfectly positioned for a consumerfacing brand to leverage.” The AMI website includes mustache facts, mustache style tips, an annual contest crowning “America’s Most MustacheFriendly City,” and interviews with mustachioed athletes and celebrities. Due to its unconventional nature, the campaign initially met with some resistance from H&R Block’s C-suite and franchisees. “When I first told my CMO about the campaign, he was skeptical. But we had a strong business case for it, mapped back to our social marketing strategy for the entire season and for long-term growth, so when I made the case … he came around,” Gulbransen says. “We have 100,000 tax pros and most of them are older. Some of them were downright angry. They said: ‘This is ridiculous. What the heck are we doing?’ and our response was, ‘This is not something we expect you to be plugged into, but the business goal is to get younger clients who are deciding where they’re going to prepare

their taxes.’ Our leadership was behind it and that made all the difference.” The campaign also painted H&R Block as an altruistic brand, Gulbransen says. “That demographic, in particular, they not only want to know that your brand is not taking itself too seriously, but also doing something to better the world around them that’s not self-serving. … Our goal was not, ‘We’re going to do this mustache campaign and we’re going to drive 400,000 people into our offices.’ It was about brand building.” H&R Block and the AMI generated awareness for the campaign through videos on their websites, on H&R Block’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and through Facebook ads. The team also created a campaign-specific YouTube channel promoting the ‘Stache Act. Celebrities including The Office’s Ellie Kemper, comedian Wayne Brady, and country music band Sugarland filmed videos in support of the ‘Stache Act and used their own social networks to publicize it. Sugarland put its video on its Facebook page and tweeted it to the band’s 2 million followers. “That’s how we sustained the campaign for the six weeks it was active. We kicked it off with this press conference on the steps of the Capitol but then took it online and did content staggered throughout the program,” Gulbransen says.


Two hundred fifty people participated in the Million Mustache March on Capitol Hill on April 1; 50,000 people signed the virtual petition for the legislation and “ ’stached” their photos at; and H&R Block donated $10,000 to Millions from One. “The Facebook component was particularly important because if you look at the pictures, you’ll see that it’s the [right] demographic. Most of them tend to be young,” Gulbransen says. The campaign garnered 350 million impressions, including segments on MSNBC, Fox News and CNN. The tax break initiative was a joke, but it landed the staff of Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett in hot water after H&R Block submitted the ‘Stache Act whitepaper to Congressional offices. “[Bartlett’s staff ] had a great sense of humor. Their boss, Bartlett, has a mustache. They thought, This is hysterical; we’ll symbolically submit it for committee. … They were in on the joke, and then … he’s running for re-election and in the primary, one woman who’s running against him was using it as a campaign issue,” Gulbransen says. “It almost got his press secretary fired, actually. It was quite a hubbub.” The campaign also boosted H&R Block’s Buzz Score on marketing research firm YouGov’s Brand Index, a survey on public brand perception. “A few weeks after we

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case study

launched, the campaign had raised the Buzz Index for H&R Block with adults 18 to 49. It had jumped 14 points and closed the gap with TurboTax,” Gulbransen says. Michael Blatter, president of New York-based experiential marketing agency Mirrorball, which has developed campaigns targeting 18- to 34-year-olds for clients including Dos Equis, Mountain Dew and Hornitos Tequila, says the ‘Stache Act


H&R Block Inc. Headquarters

Kansas City, Mo. Partner Agency


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worked because it tapped into the youth mindset. “The brand manager gets kudos for allowing irreverence for a brand that’s usually considered non-irreverent. The mere juxtaposition of something that’s so outside of the world of tax problems brought humor to not just what is a boring category, but a category that everyone hates to discuss,” he says. “There’s a Facebook component, a Twitter component, a blog


component, an experiential component, a viral component: H&R Block really allowed the agency to develop a 360-degree campaign. … Everyone’s growing these hipster mustaches. They’re a very contemporary, hip thing, and they really nailed that and really hit the sweet spot of young-adult culture in America.” m

Campaign timeline

Feb. 20-April 1, 2012 Results

350 million media impressions; 50,000 signatures on the Facebook petition; 250 participants in Million Mustache March; $10,000 donated to Millions from One

•com For more on how Elasticity and H&R Block created the ‘Stache Act campaign, tune in for the podcast with Elasticity’s Aaron Perlut at

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'Stache Bash  
'Stache Bash  

H&R Block gives a nod to hipster hairiness to raise its brand's coolness quotient.