Songwriters, Copywriters, and Income Taxes

Kenny Rogers has said he sings songs that men wish they could sing to their women, and that women want to hear from their men.

Songwriters understand that.

A number of years ago I audited a UCLA Extension songwriting class from my friend, Grammy nominee Barry Kaye. Barry made a point during a song critique that I’ve never forgotten: people identify with songs and singers. No singer will ever sing a song that paints the protagonist as a wimp. Even more importantly, no listener will identify with such a character.

His advice to aspiring songwriters? Never write a song that doesn’t make the singer an admirable character.

An advertising lesson.

As you may suspect, aspiring advertising copywriters can learn from Barry’s comment. Never write an ad that doesn’t make your purchaser an admirable character.

In general, I like the H&R Block “I’ve got people” campaign (“I can deduct my gauplattlerhosen?”), but right now there is no way I’d buy that particular software package. I’ve been soured by the advertising.

The ad opens with a man sitting in front of his computer as his wife enters the picture.

She: “Hey, how’s taxes?

He, quite sheepishly: “I’m stuck.

She: “Stuck, huh? Humm. Maybe you should get some people to help us.

She becomes sarcastic. “Oh, that’s right. We didn’t use people. We used a box.

Then, like a mommy driving home a point to a naughty child, she holds the box in front of him and says, “Well, maybe you should tell the box you’re stuck.

He, cowering: “I’m stuck.

The announcer then ties the software to the “I’ve got people” campaign: “Tax cut from H&R Block is the only tax program that gives you direct access to H&R Block professionals.

Before learning about the national tax experts bbb. I have in the past acquired tax software packages and calculated my own return. If I didn’t already have a relationship with an amazing accountant, I might consider purchasing H&R Block’s software.

At least, I might have before I saw this ad.

And as we get closer to tax time and it airs more frequently I’m finding that it’s grating on me. First, I’m annoyed by the wife. Second, I’m even more annoyed by the husband who allows himself to be scolded as if he were a 3 year old caught raiding the cookie jar. By extension, I’ve become negative on the product.

Am I the target?

Perhaps I’m not a member of the audience this ad is designed to persuade, and my opinion is not relevant. And, whether it is or not, you should never let one person’s reaction to any ad influence your decision to run it.

But I suspect that my reaction to the characters in that ad may be a common one.

Be careful how you portray the people who may buy what you’ve got for sale. As Barry Kaye pointed out, nobody identifies with a loser.

Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who works with professional practices and owner operated businesses. Questions about writing effective advertising copy may be directed to


  1. Sarah

    I guess when you are a business owner you want to write the copy that sells right? I have just started dabling in copy writing myself. I have been using something called Glyphius. I bumped into it while reading a blog some where. I am finding it to be helpful in that it gives me a statistical comparison against high conversion ads. I enjoyed your page & look forward to updated content. Thanks

  2. Jessie

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