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-yearold 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 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 teenybopper 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.