In 2006-07, I helped create the American Mustache Institute (AMI). It’s one part real-life facial hair advocacy organization, one part facial hair enthusiasts community, one part men’s humor site, one part charitable vehicle, and 13.5 parts experimental digital media sandbox.
Through it I’ve created a number of media-worthy campaigns for the sake of battling what I’ve found to be is a very true-to-life pattern of discrimination against people with mustaches, as well as parodying silly things — most recently “America’s Most Mustache Friendly City.” And with that, AMI has gradually building an audience of 100,000+ monthly unique visitors, 20,000 members, an active Facebook page of more than 10,000 people, and an international press following.
Enter Scott Gulbransen, the facial hair-challenged director of social media at H&R Block, the iconic brand with the large green block founded by Henry and Richard Bloch.
As successful as the H&R Block may be, the company doesn’t scream: “HEY, YOU 22-YEAR-OLD DUDE WHO LIKES HUMOR! LET’S PARTY AND AFTERWARD WE’LL GO ROCK OUT AND DO YOUR TAXES AND GET YOU A FREAKING NARLY RETURN!!!”
And so I broached an offbeat idea with Scott: Create a humor-based social media campaign shaped around seeking a tax break for the “people of Mustached American descent” that AMI represents.
We asked a tax policy professor to write a relatively cogent argument for a $250 annual refund for Mustached Americans based on the notion that people with facial hair were doing America a service by enhancing good looks, as well as providing an environmental benefit by saving water through less shaving. This, in turn, had a cost for Mustached Americans in purchasing U.S.-made grooming accoutrements that stimulated the economy.
Payback was due damn it! Enter the Stache Act.
On Feb. 20, President’s Day 2012, as AMI chairman, I stood behind a podium with the tax policy professor, Dr. John Yeutter from Northeastern State University.
Together, we introduced The Million Mustache March for the Stache Act (see the news conference here) — a two month campaign seeking adoption of the Stache Act through two principle vehicles:
- StacheAct.com, which redirects to an application on H&R Block’s Facebook page where consumers can ‘stache their photo with a past presidential mustache;
- A physical march on April 1 in Washington D.C. from the U.S. Capitol to the White House (white paper and details on the march here).
And here’s the hook that gives it some broader validity: For everyone who participates, H&R Block makes a contribution of up to $10,000 to Millions From One, which delivers clean drinking water to those who cannot obtain it themselves. It’s why celebrities like of “The Office” star Ellie Kemper (her PSA here), veteran musician John Oates (his PSA), and a host of professional athletes have been willing to shoot gratis Public Service Announcements.
The Act was brought to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the Cato Institute, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, and Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who’s office then referred it to the House Ways & Means Committee.
And as a result of these wide-ranging efforts, early results have been promising. News stories covering the announcement have come from Yahoo Politics, ABC News and FOX News, as well as Capitol Hill media like Roll Call and The Hill. But they’ve also all covered it with the relative good humor and silliness that accompanies the effort.
Where will this all end, besides, of course, with one million Mustached Americans and interested third parties parading through the Nation’s Capitol on April Fools Day? That’s a good question.
H&R Block hopes it will be with more young people thinking about it when they get ready to file taxes.
The only thing that is for certain — right now at least — is that H&R Block is leveraging its social media clout and taking the brand in new directions. The company took a very hairy (ahem), strategic risk, stepped out of its comfort zone, and ultimately should engender some goodwill from a budding constituency that represents the future of its tax service business: 18-35-year-olds who research has demonstrated enjoy humor in marketing and care about philanthropy.
So, I ask you, be more American than any American has ever been. Participate in the most important movement in the history of movements.
Vote Stache Act! America is counting on you!