How Did Tax Day Become a Marketing Holiday?

Have you ever wondered how some days have become “holidays?”  Groundhog Day has always astounded me with its popularity, but what about Moldy Cheese Day (Oct. 9) or Don’t Go to Work Unless It’s Fun Day (Apr 3).  Humbug Day (Dec. 21) has never achieved any popularity, nor has one of my favorites: Left Handers’ Day (8/13).

But April 15–Tax Day?  Who would have thunk that this day could go from a reputation of no one being able to excape death and taxes to a retail “holiday?” Yet marketers have turned this time of the year into an incredible promotional period.

1. First, we went from slaving away on our own returns to hiring a C.P.A. or tax service when things got desperate.   Then came Turbo Tax, and many of us felt that the software filled in the tax code for us and we went back to doing our taxes ourselves.  Enter the marketing geniuses.   Now, if we’ve ever used Turbo Tax, our email boxes are getting  bombarded with online reminders to download new software for 2011 federal and state forms and guidelines.  It’s easy! It’s fast!  File online for the fastest return!  Every office supply store, bookstore, and multiple other unexpected retail outlets feature product shippers with headers announcing Turbo Tax: On Sale!!!  How can we resist?

2. Tax Day has also turned to the experiential side.  I saw dozens of people this year dressed up in green Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam costumes waving arrows to the local tax preparer offices.  Gone are the days of sandwich boards.  Only live motion will draw attention to your April civic duty.

3. Then there’s the lawsuit between the #1 and #2 tax preparation services ( H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt) regarding claims.  It’s like election season where the airwaves are taken over by tax-related information–or mis-information?  Who is a poor citizen to trust?

3. The last few years, tax-free shopping days have become popular.  I heard a spot yesterday on the radio for a mattress store.  The owner promised that you’ll sleep better on Tax Day when you buy a new mattress and the store pays the tax for you.  When you think about it, this discount is really paltry–since most sales tax falls far short of a 20 or 50% sale that gets the juices going.  If only they would pay my federal tax–now that would be an incentive!

4. All day yesterday, there were Tax Day freebies on the internet.  Subway offered a buy-one get-one free foot-long sandwich.  Chemistry.com, a dating service, offered a free 3-day membership.  McDonald’s offered a second Quarter Pounder for 18 cents (huh?).  What does any of this have to do with Tax Day?  Deadlines.  One dreaded dealine deserves a postive one–at your favorite retailer, service or restaurant.

5. And then we have the tax refund promotions.  Buy new furniture!  Use your tax refund for a new car or truck!  Take a vacation while the IRS pays for it!  If anyone has a tax refund big enough for a major purchase, then they need to rethink their withholding, or their tax preparer.

So how did you celebrate Tax Day?  Did you make a midnight run to the Post Office, or did you have a Super-Bowl-type party where you offered lots of food and drinks while attendees placed odds on the board:  you, your friends, your family vs the IRS in an audit?   As for me, I had a paper-shredding party, throwing confetti from old 1040s around the room while blowing on a party horn.

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