For 30 seconds at a time, television commercials enter our rooms with one shot at making a lasting impression.
Wendy's "Where's the beef?" ad made audiences laugh, while the 1971 pollution prevention public service announcement struck an emotional chord with its portrayal of a Native American crying.
Many commercials seem destined only to annoy viewers, but every once and awhile, one defies short attention spans and our penchant for channel flipping to enter the cultural zeitgeist. They can even create a few stars.
In the late 90s, Ben Curtis, also known as the "Dell Dude," beamed into living rooms across America in a string of television ads for the computer maker, helping bolster Dell's $4.8 billion consumer sector and making the phrase "Dude, you're getting a Dell!" a part of the cultural lexicon. The commercials brought him instant success.
"For the first four or five years after the commercials, I couldn't go anywhere in America, even in Japan and Amsterdam, anywhere on the streets, in hats and sunglasses. It didn't matter. I could not finish a conversation with anyone without hearing 'Dude, where's my computer?'" Curtis told "Good Morning America."
Pitch personalities like Curtis are a rarity in a fast-paced industry that has a hard time pinpointing the next big thing. Jerry Della Femina, a New York-based advertising executive, said that "out of maybe 50 people you cast, there's one person that so stands out, that you automatically say, that's the person we want. And it always works."
Curtis, a prime example of a pitch person with the right voice, had a five-year run with Dell. The partnership could have continued, but a 2003 arrest for possession of marijuana sidelined the actor, and Dell severed ties with Curtis.
"I made a very very bad decision," Curtis said. "I paid for it, but I learned a lot from it. I think that was important."
Today, Curtis is scripting a one-man show, hoping to use his famous past to recharge his career. The show pokes fun at the hysteria surrounding his appeal as a pitch person, alludes to his Tennessee upbringing as a minister's son, and revisits what it was like living in New York City after September 11, 2001.
Ben remains optimistic about his future in the entertainment industry.
"I've seen the nasty side of the industry, I've seen the great side, I've seen what's possible, and that has kept me driven ever since then, because I had a taste and I know that wasn't even a smidgen of what anyone has seen of my work and so that just keeps me going", he stated.
For John Moschitta Jr., another commercial celebrity, it was his mouth that kept him going professionally for more than thirty years. He starred in commercials for FedEx, as well as MicroMachines, and is remembered for his turn as "Terrible Testaverde" on "Saved by the Bell." Moschitta realized early on that he could stir attention with his unique gift of gab.
"I taught myself how to do it when I was 12, I was told to shut up, no one cared about it, and then all of a sudden someone decided to pay me money for it," Moschitta said. "You know you never know what's going to catch on, and I just haven't stopped working since."
These days, television viewers can still catch Moschitta on the small screen doing voiceovers for television programs, including Comedy Central's "Robot Chicken," and "Transformers."
Moschitta is grateful for his success.