Bloomberg Businessweek has a lengthy piece this morning called "Branded for Life," about the pleasures—but mostly the perils—of becoming a successful brand spokesperson. The central thesis is that the better you are at such jobs, the more your life will probably suck in the long run. "While receiving a good-size paycheck, the actor behind a successful brand character enters a state of existential limbo," the story says. "He is famous yet anonymous. His face is anonymous, yet his name is largely unknown. The job is pleasant. He is fortunate to have it. At the same time, for the rest of his life, he will be saddled with the character and treated in public, at conventions, on the street, in the grocery store, like a windup toy. Pull string, say tag line. More disconcerting is that when the campaign is over, chances are, no other brand will hire him. The overexposure can be nearly impossible to overcome. He will have successfully acted himself right out of acting."
Yeah, probably—although most struggling actors would take that Faustian bargain any day of the week. And all of the actors interviewed for the piece—Andrew Olcott, aka Enzyte's "Smiling Bob"; Ben "Dell Dude" Curtis; David Leisure, aka Joe Isuzu; and Dan Gilvezan, the Jack in the Box Man—seem to be very much at peace with their past lives as windup toys, though their ad jobs certainly changed the course of their acting careers.
Olcott gets the most ink, and in some ways his story is the most interesting. Between 2002 and 2005, he appeared in 18 spots for Enzyte, the "natural male enhacement" pill, wearing a disconcerting but apparently hugely popular permagrin (his wife called it "the stupidest thing she'd ever seen"). He made a bunch of cash and was famous, even though no one knew his name. But then, the campaign ended—and in 2008, Enzyte boss Steve Warshak was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering, somewhat tarnishing Smiling Bob's image in the process. But Olcott, who now runs an ad business in Vancouver, has no regrets.
"Everybody in my life knows me as Smiling Bob," he says. "I'm quite open about it. I have a 16-year-old son. His friends love the fact that I'm Smiling Bob. They walk around wearing T-shirts with my face on it. … Was I upset when Bob ended? Yeah, of course. Financially, would I like it back? Of course. Do I lament it? A little. But I'm not losing any sleep over it. I've moved on to other things. All I can do is be really happy that I had the opportunity. I feel blessed that I was able to do that."
Perhaps the bleakest part of the piece is when the actors admit they'd love for their characters to be brought back. Curtis, the old Dell Dude, who has struggled in recent years, is blunt about his predicament. "The problem is that I'm just not the new, hot guy anymore. A lot of people feel like they've seen my best work, which isn't true at all," he says. "If they brought me back, I think it would probably boost their sales all over again. If you hear from Dell or any of their ad agencies, let me know. I'm ready for my comeback."