Intuit’s TurboTax outspent H&R Block on TV commercials and paid search advertising online, according to a new analysis.

Kantar Media found that between January 2 and April 4, tax prep advertisers spent more than $192 million on TV commercials across U.S. national, cable and Spanish language TV, with TurboTax spending $93.4 million, or nearly 49 percent, of the total. The closest competitor was H&R Block, whose $81.2 million in spending made up 42 percent of the total. Behind them were Jackson Hewitt, which spent $8.8 million on TV spots during that period, followed by TaxSlayer and Credit Karma, each of which spent $2.4 million.

“Both TurboTax and H&R Block accounted for the majority of the spend during that time period on television,” said Eric Marcy, head of the paid search division at Kantar Media. “It was about 91 percent of the total.”

Many of the TurboTax TV commercials parodied horror film ads that begin in a frightening way before reassuring viewers there is “nothing to be afraid of” when filing their taxes with TurboTax. H&R Block, on the other hand, ran humorous commercials featuring actor Jon Hamm praising H&R Block’s services on various film sets.

Jon Hamm commercials for H&R Block
Jon Hamm commercials for H&R Block

Approximately half of H&R Block’s TV commercials positioned its online filing software against TurboTax. One commercial informed viewers, “Unlike TurboTax, H&R Block More Zero lets you file online for free even if you itemize deductions.” The name of Block’s online filing product, More Zero, seemed to be designed to directly position it against TurboTax’s Absolute Zero product.

In a concurrent study of paid search advertising, Kantar Media data found that TurboTax outperformed H&R Block during the same period, as well as all other players. “TurboTax accounted for 35.6 percent of the click share during that time period, and H&R Block was the distinct second-ranked advertiser with 13.2 percent click share,” said Marcy.

Kantar Media 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 35.6 percent of all clicks on the keyword group. TurboTax’s parent company site Intuit.com, which promoted TurboTax in some of its paid search ads during the period, gained another 4.3 percent click share. In comparison, HRBlock.com ranked second with a respectable but distant 13.2 percent click share, followed by TaxAct.com (8.7 percent click share) and E-File.com (7.5 percent click share).

Unlike its TV commercials, H&R Block’s paid search ads didn’t specifically position its online filing software against TurboTax. The paid search ads from Block served on non-branded keywords during the period instead exclusively focused on the benefits of its software solution and service, including free filing online. “On their paid search ads, we didn’t see as much of that kind of ad creative and content approach towards positioning themselves against TurboTax,” said Marcy. “It will be interesting to see based on the results they have, if that’s going to change down the road and they’re going to continue to position themselves in that way, or if they’re going to take a slightly different approach.”

Other tax prep companies made some inroads this tax season, including TaxSlayer and Credit Karma, which came in behind Intuit’s TurboTax, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt. “TaxSlayer and Credit Karma were in the fourth position and fifth position, respectively, when it comes to television,” said Marcy. “I think we’re going to continue to see them make inroads when it comes to television. They were a little further down when it came to paid search.”

TaxSlayer’s TV ads focused on the features and benefits of its online filing software, including speed, ease and gaining the biggest refund. Credit Karma’s TV ads focused on the company’s offering of both free credit monitoring, for which it is best known, and free tax filing, which consumers might not know about.

Liberty Tax, in contrast, did comparatively little advertising after a fight for control over the company between founder John Hewitt and other members of the board and executive team.

“It appears that they have backed off some,” said Marcy. “They certainly didn’t crack the top rankings on either the television or the paid search listings that we have.”

There was surprisingly little advertising from tax prep companies about the new tax reform law, though most of the provisions won’t take effect until next tax season. Kantar Media didn’t find ads referencing the new tax laws in the creative ads it reviewed. The content focused on benefits of the various advertisers’ service or software for consumers.

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.