H&R Block drafts Coen brothers for Super Bowl ad


Michael McCarthy

NEW YORK — O Brother(s), Where Art Thou? In the Super Bowl, that’s where.

The moviemaking Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are moving from Fargo to the Oscars of the ad industry, creating a big-budget commercial for H&R Block to air during Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3.

They are the latest in a growing number of A-list film directors to take commercial assignments. BMW and Fallon in Minneapolis recruited directors like Ang Lee of Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to create a series of Web films last year called The Hire.

“A lot of commercials these days are like minimovies,” says Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment.

The Oscar-winning filmmakers are directing a 30-second comic nightmare called “Desk.” At a cavernous government office, a character called “The Tax Code Reader” drones on about the hundreds of tax code changes taking effect over the next few years.

Bored government workers at a sea of desks pay no attention. One listens to the late George Harrison’s tune Taxman on headphones. “With 441 tax law changes, H&R Block will get you every advantage you deserve,” the voice-over promises.

“It’s a parody of what you might expect this process to really be,” explains David Byers, chief marketing officer for H&R Block in Kansas City.

Ad agency Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis was inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1994 big-business fantasy, The Hudsucker Proxy, while writing the spot. So they invited the Coens to direct.

“We felt this commercial was relevant to our filmmaking style,” say Minneapolis natives Joel and Ethan in a statement. “We have always been fascinated with the mysteries of the tax code and with the people who struggle so mightily to plumb its depths.”

H&R Block has also purchased five pregame commercial slots and will sponsor part of the pregame show on Fox. The Super Bowl is part of a $100 million ad campaign to reposition the company as a full-service financial firm, beyond tax preparation.

“The timing couldn’t be better. Super Bowl is smack dab in the middle of tax season,” Byers says.

Fox has sold only 80% of its 60 in-game Super Bowl spots, according to spokesman Lou D’Ermilio in New York. But more advertisers are coming off the sidelines in recent weeks, media buyers say.