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Dude, meet the Dell guy

Computer buyers have responded to Steven, the character Ben Curtis, 21, plays in the popular Dell TV commercials.  

From Jason Carroll

NEW YORK (CNN) -- He is the Mrs. Olson of high-tech, the Maytag repairman of motherboards, the Mr. Whipple of the computer world. He's the latest hot commercial pitchman, with a jargon not unfamiliar to Bill and Ted of "Excellent Adventure" fame -- or his high school-age fans.

He's Steven, the Dell guy, and he's helped Dell Computer Corp. generate some serious cash since the ads started running on television a year ago.

"Dude, you should have bought a Dell," he proclaims in commercials, and consumers have responded. While personal computer sales were down 31 percent during the first three quarters of last year, Dell's market share went up 16.5 percent -- more than double the previous year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Steven has now reached cult status.

CNN's Jason Carroll profiles Ben Curtis, a college student who plays Steven, the computer guy, in the Dell TV commercials (January 31)

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But Ben Curtis, who plays Steven in the popular ads, doesn't try to figure out his newfound fame. "It's still a mystery to me," says Curtis, 21, an acting student at New York University in Manhattan.

Dell receives fan mail from a whole spectrum of people, from senior citizens to teen-age girls, USA Today reports.

Why is the ad so successful? It could be something in the pitchman's eyes, or eyebrows. Mostly, people appear to like his humor.

"He seems like a funny guy," said a woman who eyed Curtis in New York's Times Square.

"I'll take the guy before I take the computer," added a fan who spotted him.

The student behind the ads

Curtis, a New York acting student, says he can't explain the success of the Dell ads. "It's still a mystery to me," he says.  

The young Tennessee native was discovered by Dell's former New York agency, Lowe Worldwide. Dell, however, moved its $200 million account to another agency, DDB Chicago, last year and used Curtis' talent to make a series of successful commercials.

Curtis is so popular that it became difficult for him to complete a photo shoot this week without a fan shouting or running over to grab a little bit of him.

"I want a Dell, dude!" shouted one teen-age boy. "Can I have a hug?" asked a teen-age girl.

Curtis won't reveal what he makes for the ads, but he told USA Today that "it helps with school and living in New York."

Curtis told the paper that he eventually hopes to make independent films. He says he is not sure how long Steve's appeal will last but that he will enjoy the perks along the way.

'People are talking'

Dell is enjoying the Steven exposure all the way to the bank. The company says its recognition factor has doubled.

Industry observers have recognized the remarkable achievement. "There's nothing else going on right now that people are talking about like this in the advertising world," says Todd Wasserman of Brandweek magazine, an advertising trade publication.

The marketing strategy is simple: A young guy will get people to buy.

But Steven's appeal goes beyond his youthful age group. "I think he's the best thing since sliced bread," said one white-haired gentleman in Times Square, perhaps indicating the Dell guy does not appeal only to the teen set.

Curtis explains, "We found an energy that a lot of people can appeal to, and if you don't hate it, you can laugh at it."


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