Ad Track: Retailers try to make April 15 less taxing

Capitalizing on the fast-approaching April 15 income tax deadline, a rush of retailers have created their own versions of "tax relief" in the form of tax-time tie-ins.

From pizza makers to massage services, they are trying to turn one of the most dreaded days of the year into a promotional vehicle with discounts and giveaways.

Papa John's pzza will target last-minute filers with a "pro-crust-inators" online order deal April 13-15. In a nod to the dreaded federal tax form 1040, the promotion offers a pizza with three toppings for $10.40.

In a related stunt, Papa John's franchisees in 15 markets will dole out free slices on April 15 at high-traffic post offices.

Consumers dropping off their taxes on that day often owe money, "so they're not in a great mood," says Keith Sullins, a franchisee in the Houston area. Giving them free grub and "putting a smile on their face" will give the brand a boost while getting people to sample its fare.

"There are lots of people who have never tried (our pizza) before," says Sullins. "It's a great opportunity to give them a taste of it."

Consumers can expect more promotions tied to such offbeat "holidays" as companies try to stand out from competitors and boost sales in a sluggish economy, says Allen Adamson, managing director at branding agency Landor Associates.

"It underscores the pressure that marketers are under today to get noticed," he says, pointing out recent promotions linked to Feb. 29 Leap Day and Feb. 2 Groundhog Day. "The other traditional holidays are so overdone."

Many attempts at tax-time promotions will "fall into the trying-too-hard category," he says, but if they're relevant, such as offering organizing tools, or offer unexpected fun, they can work.

Others trying to get in on the IRS action:

•Retailers. Office-supply retailer Staples spls will use tax day to showcase its Copy & Print Center services. Filers can make a free copy of their 2007 return up to 20 pages.

The Container Store is promoting its "tax time sale" on its website, with in-store banners and a special catalog mailing. The message for consumers is to "organize before you itemize." Deals include a six-pack of hanging file folders for $5.99 instead of $6.99 and a receipt file at $4.99, down from $6.99.

•Travel companies. According to a National Retail Federation survey, 12% of people expecting a refund this year say they'll use it for a vacation. Last year, refunds averaged $2,259, according to the IRS. Armed with those statistics, Marriott & Renaissance Caribbean & Mexico Resorts has launched a 1040 Family Travel deal to chase that money. Package rates for five nights at one of nine resorts begin at $725, saving up to 40%.

The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is offering an Escape from Taxes Package in which the discount for refund spenders is a refund of the local 11% general tax and $5 occupancy tax on their room.

•Beermakers. Molson Coors Brewing tap will use April 15 to launch can designs for Coors and Coors Light that have a "vent" next to the opening for smoother drinking. The beermaker will christen April 15 National Venting Day. Street teams will fan out in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Tampa to hand out promotional pamphlets that say, "Now that your taxes are in the mail, call your friends and start venting tonight. Highest refund buys."

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