Super Bowl raises the bar for MTD ITSA ad campaignby
Now that Super Bowl adverts resemble a Hollywood blockbuster, HMRC will have to think big if the tax office wants MTD ITSA to cut through into the mainstream.
Remember when TV adverts used to be talking chimps having a cup of tea? Not any more. These days the general public expects more than an ape in 1920s dress twirling around a piano while gnashing its mouth.
Accounting software touches down on Super Bowl Sunday
Take last weekend’s Super Bowl. To get just a 30-second advert, deep-pocketed companies had to hand over an eye-watering sum usually only discussed on this site when talking about Covid loan fraud.
US accounting software giant TurboTax was one of the companies that coughed up $6.5m to get their product in front of the big game's 112.3m viewers.
The matchmaker ad featured a Russian doll-like parade of potential clients ripping rubber face masks off in Mission Impossible fashion, as the TurboTax Live app matched them up with the right tax adviser for their business.
The face-ripping part sounds freaky in a David Cronenberg body horror way, but stay with me here; it had a nice, brassy ‘brrrp-bop-bop’ trumpet backing track, and like all great Super Bowl commercials, it featured a celebrity cameo: actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis (me neither?).
Elsewhere in the Intuit universe, DJ Khaled starred in a QuickBooks and MailChimp advert, which included a singing cat and a tone-deaf karaoke singer murdering the rapper's song ‘All I do is win’ while entrepreneurs juggled their passions with mounting invoices.
Both had everything you’d want from an accounting software advert: a singing cat, an "isn’t that whatshisname off that TV show" celebrity star turn, an upbeat soundtrack and some potential TikTok-worthy memes. Now granted, there isn’t a dashboard or chart of accounts anywhere to be seen, but did I mention there was a singing cat?
Flashy adverts cross the Atlantic
And we've also started to see a similar phenomenon on this side of the Atlantic, with the likes of Sage, Xero and of course QuickBooks all upping the stakes in the UK accounting ad game.
Avid Coronation Street fans will now often hear "Making Tax Digital" boom over a catchy soundtrack during the soap's ad break as they patiently wait for the next instalment of "ay up duck" and "shall I make a brew, our kid?".
Software houses have done a great job in publicising the looming MTD rollout. Now it’s HMRC’s turn.
HMRC needs to think big
As we know, HMRC won’t just be relying on the accounting profession to spread the word this time. That’s why the tax office should look at the success of the Super Bowl to see the power of television in getting the message out.
Admittedly, with £5.8bn of Covid support cash lost to fraud and error, HMRC might not be willing to blow millions on a glossy TV advert. But how else can it compete with everything else out there in TV land? And after all, it wouldn’t be the first time a government department shovelled millions into an advertising campaign.
In recent years we’ve seen the department of work and pensions (DWP) unleash a lumbering Poundland-Disney character to remind small businesses about their workplace pension obligations. The DWP described Workie, the nightmarish alcopop-coloured giant fluffball, as “a striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension”.
What could possibly embody MTD ITSA then? An animated can being kicked into the long grass? Failing that, maybe the tax office should just bring back the Inland Revenue's old mascot. Perhaps, it’s time for the return of Hector the tax inspector.
Hector for a 21st-century tax department
Without Alec Guinness to provide the voice, HMRC should take inspiration from the Super Bowl adverts and cast a Hollywood name as our beloved Hector. But who could possibly play a 21st-century version of the tax inspector?
Facing unrest and pitchforks from the accounting profession, Hector needs to be an action star with broad shoulders. It needs someone like professional wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
Picture the scene:
INT. MUNDANE OFFICE. DAY
We’re in a grey and dull office. The shelving units heave with folders. Files and workpapers spill onto the floor. The bottom drawer of a filing cabinet slowly creaks out under the pressure of paperwork.
A single worker stares mindlessly at an old Amstrad computer screen. Their posture resembles the wilting plant plonked on top of the filing cabinet.
The door slams open and rips off its hinges, shattering the glass and sending the plant nosediving off the filing cabinet.
The camera pushes in on the boots stomping into frame, then slowly scans up.
It’s a six-foot-plus moustachioed, mountain of a tax inspector. He looks like a bodybuilder and his suit barely stretches around his frame. He wears a small bowler hat and chomps on a cigar. This is HECTOR THE TAX INSPECTOR.
Music swells in the background. A CHORUS OF BACKING SINGERS step into frame. They start singing Olivia Newton John’s ‘Let’s get physical’ but it’s not the lyrics you and I remember.
BACKING SINGERS: Let’s get digital, digital… I wanna get digital… Let me hear your chatbot talk, your chatbot talk…
HECTOR (to the camera): Buckle up. Let’s make tax digital.
Hector heaves up the filing cabinet and body slams it to the floor. The bored worker suddenly snaps out of their hypnotised state.
Security guards rush in and attempt to tackle Hector.
HECTOR: Making Tax Digital will make the tax system more resilient and effective.
Hector casually brushes them off and the workers fly into the shelving unit.
HECTOR: As businesses turn to digital tools, the tax system needs to keep pace.
He pulls a hammer out of his briefcase and bashes the office worker’s old clunky computer. We pull back to see the worker now staring in awe at a gleaming new system. A heavenly angel sound effect kicks in.
Hector slings a backpack on his shoulders and yanks up the office window. He looks at the camera, raises an eyebrow and jumps.
Or, if all that fails, they can always just dust off Workie and have the monster wave an MTD ITSA flag while a cat sings in the background.