The Dell Dude Connects With PC Buyers

Every so often an advertising character jumps out of the television screen and into the hearts of consumers. A few years ago it was "Stuart"—the geeky, red-headed know-it-all who appeared in commercials for online stock trading company Ameritrade—who struck a chord with viewers. The latest ad spokesperson generating the buzz is "Steven," the lovable blond surfer dude who gives expert advice to people shopping for a home computer. The "Dell Dude" is played by Ben Curtis, a 21-year-old student who studies acting at New York University and hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Curtis got the role after an audition, and his first appearances in a Dell commercial came in late 2000 in a spot in which he makes a video for his parents explaining why they should buy him a Dell personal computer. Although Dell switched ad agencies a few months after Curtis was hired,the company and its new agency, DDB Chicago, knew they had a star in the making and retained the Steven character as its "spokesdude."

Over the past two years "Steven" has appeared in more than 10 commercials for Dell including a popular spot where he hawks Dells while driving his dad's convertible with a hot brunette seated next to him. The commercials use a clever blend of humor and salesmanship by portraying Steven as a hip teenager who convinces his parents, his friends' parents, and even random people he meets to buy computers from Dell. Shortly after taking over the account, DDB's creative group added the quip: "Dude,you're gettin' a Dell" to Steven's pitch and the phrase has slowly been seeping into pop-culture vernacular. The ad campaign has m ™ » -m H *

helped Dell put a friendly face on its personal computers—a product category that is often intimidating to consumers. Dell's senior manager of consumer advertising says that Steven "has changed our image into that of an approachable company, a company that makes technology easy and fun." The ads have also helped sales, as Dell's share of the home segment of the personal computer market has increased significantly since the campaign was launched.

Curtis's success as the Dell Dude demonstrates the importance of casting in creating effective advertising. The creative director at DDB notes that the right casting is as important as the right message since you need somebody to bring it to life. Curtis clearly brings the Dell Dude to life as "Steven" is described as a modern-day Tom Sawyer who appeals to a broad range of consumers. He receives fan mail from teeny-bopper girls who want to date him as well as from seniors who like his Eddie Haskell-like charm. The "Dell Guy," as he is often referred to, boasts one of the largest advertising fan-club message boards on Yahoo, with over 500 members as well as numerous fan websites. Curtis has been interviewed on the Today Show, CNN, and ABC's 20/20 Downtown and been featured in articles in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many other publications. Curtis also makes appearances at Dell events to rally employees as well as at industry trade shows such as Comdex. In recognition of his celebrity status, Dell created a new web "sitelet" that fans can visit to find out more about Curtis and his latest ads.

In late 2002 Dell announced that "Steven" would be playing a smaller role in its advertising, although the company still plans to use him in the future. However, some analysts note that the company may not want to use "the Dell Dude" as it focuses more on selling its computers to businesses. Curtis knows that the fame he is currently enjoying may be short-lived but hopes he can use it as a launchpad for his ultimate goal of becoming an actor. He worries somewhat about being typecast as a surfer dude but says that the pay helps with school and the expense of living in New York. So goes the life of Madison Avenue's newest mini-celebrity.

Sources: Michael McCarthy, "Goofy Dell Guy Exudes Star Power; 'Steven' Wins Over Bunches of Computer Buyers," USA Today, Jan. 14,2002, p. B5; Suzanne Vranica,"Dell, Starting New Campaign, Plans for Life Without Steven," The Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2002, p. B3.

Many former athletes such as Arnold Palmer and Nolan Ryan are effective endorsers because they have very favorable images among aging baby boomers and seniors. Pop star Brittany Spears is a very effective spokesperson for Pepsi as she is very popular among young teens, who are the heavy users of soft drinks.

Consumers who are particularly knowledgeable about a product or service or have strongly established attitudes may be less influenced by a celebrity than those with little knowledge or neutral attitudes. One study found that college-age students were more likely to have a positive attitude toward a product endorsed by a celebrity than were older consumers.24 The teenage market has generally been very receptive to celebrity endorsers, as evidenced by the frequent use of entertainers and athletes in ads targeted to this group for products such as apparel, cosmetics, and beverages. However, many marketers are finding that teenage consumers are more skeptical and cynical toward the use of celebrity endorsers and respond better to ads using humor, irony, and unvarnished truth.25 Some marketers targeting teenagers have responded to this by no longer using celebrities in their campaigns or by poking fun at their use. For example, Sprite has developed a very effective campaign using ads that parody celebrity endorsers and carry the tagline "Image is nothing. Obey your thirst" (Exhibit 6-5).

Risk to the Advertiser A celebrity's behavior may pose a risk to a company.26 A number of entertainers and athletes have been involved in activities that could embarrass the companies whose products they endorsed. For example, Hertz used O. J. Simpson as its spokesperson for 20 years and lost all that equity when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. Pepsi had a string of problems with celebrity endorsers; it severed ties with Mike Tyson, after his wife accused him of beating her, and with singer Michael Jackson, after he was accused of having sex with a 12-year-old boy. Pepsi dropped a TV commercial featuring Madonna when some religious groups and consumers objected to her "Like a Prayer" video and threatened to boycott Pepsi products. More recently, several companies including Pizza Hut and the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain terminated the endorsement contract with controversial basketball star Dennis Rodman because of his unpredictable behavior both on and off the

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