Dude: Dell's New Ads Rock

Dell Computer Corp.'s current "intern" spots aren't as sexy as its popular "surfer dude" ad campaign, but they're getting better results for the computer maker, the company's chief marketing officer said at the CTAM Summit here last week.

Michael George, who spoke at the conference's general session Monday, also briefly described Dell's interest in helping consumers to configure a digital home, where television, computers and the Internet are seamlessly linked.

But most of the presentation was George's description of how Dell's advertising evolved from being what he frankly described as "fairly dull" to what he called "the Steven phenomenon."

In those near-legendary commercials, actor Ben Curtis endlessly mouthed what became a catch phrase — "Dude, you're getting a Dell."

George presented a series of clips of Curtis, who was catapulted into celebrity due to the spots, appearing on national television programs ranging from Today
to The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. But Curtis's notoriety became a problem.

"Celebrities are clearly a double-edged sword," George said. "The advertising began to become more about Steven than about the Dell product."

Last fall, Dell pulled the plug on the surfer-dude ads. "We were very nervous about replacing Steve," George said.

But that move proved fortuitous. George noted that six months later, Curtis "had an unfortunate" incident with New York police. The actor was charged after a marijuana-buy bust.

The new Dell intern ads don't have the humor or fun of the surfer-dude spots, "but they have resulted in actually better sales per spot," according to George.

On the digital-home front, George said, "we see it as a reality today." He noted that the issue being mulled is "who will control the digital home" — the TV set, PC or set-top, for example.

But ultimately, George said, no single entity would control the day. There will be a partnership between the various entities involved, he said.