Amazon.com has come up with an unusual way to sell its tax prep packages this season, featuring characters from NBC's TV series "The Office" as examples of the kinds of taxpayers who might try out different packages.
The e-commerce company has set up an online store devoted to tax prep called Tax Central where Amazon customers can download copies of Intuit's TurboTax and H&R Block's TaxCut. Users can click on the profiles of different characters from the TV show such as Pam Beesly, identified as an E-Z Breezy Filer, and Dwight Shrute, known here as a Fancy Filer.
Clicking on the profiles brings up a humorous description of each of the characters with references to some of their misadventures on the show, and how they might relate to their tax-prep issues. For example, for Dwight, the profile notes, "The right tax software will help you get through even the most intricate tax return--alone and on your own time over a bowl of Count Chocula--without ever having to divulge private information."
For Angela, who recently organized a holiday party on the show, her profile says, "It's not surprising that you're filing for an extension. As leader of the Party Planning Committee, you've got an overwhelming number of celebrations to conduct. And ever since your cat Sprinkles' unfortunate demise, you've been a bit preoccupied."
The profiles look like employee badges from Dunder Mifflin, the paper products company portrayed on the show. It's a good bet the Dunder Mifflin employees would not be in favor of either a paperless office or electronic filing.
The tax prep product choices vary a bit from character to character, but not by too much. Each page also includes a link to where customers can buy episodes of "The Office" on DVD, along with links to office products like scanners, printers and shredders. There's also a section called "How You'll Want to Spend Your Refund" that includes interesting, but probably unlikely, choices such as karaoke systems, cat toys and Harry Connick Jr. CDs that Angela might want to buy. The character of Jim Halpert, whose tax type is identified as procrastinator, would supposedly spend his refund on items such as deli meat, mountain-biking gear and Philadelphia Phillies merchandise.
"The profiles were intended to marry 'Office' characters to types of software," Alana Kelton, editor of software at Amazon, told me. "The secondary piece was what to buy with the refund." She said it took about a month to put together the site after she watched every single episode of the series from the past few months.
But the main goal is to sell tax software. Amazon's gambit may help broaden the appeal of consumer tax prep by encouraging fans of "The Office" to buy the package supposedly identified with their favorite characters. It's a different way to sell tax prep software, for sure, and could even help fans of the show cope a little better with the writers' strike, which has sent the series into premature reruns for the foreseeable future. Taxpayers might as well work on their tax returns while they wait for new episodes to come back on the air.
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