We've all seen countless commercials and speeches by spokespeople of various kinds. And whether they're promoting a brand, a product or a cause, many of us have grown to be weary of smooth-talking pitchmen who try to change our minds. Celebrities and politicians, especially, are often seen as promoting narrow or self-serving agendas that the common man has little to identify with. But recent years have seen the emergence of a new phenomenon -- the geek spokesperson. Unpretentious, disarming and slightly awkward, geeks have the ability to penetrate our usual defenses against being pitched or preached to. As a result, brands and causes are increasingly seeking the support of such people. Below, we'll profile 12 geeky spokespeople who have spoken out for various products and movements in the last several years.
As the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is perhaps the man most qualified to hold the title of geek spokesperson. Not content to rest on the laurels of inventing a substantial element of the Internet, Berners-Lee has also been "one of the pioneering voices in favor of Net Neutrality" according to Wikipedia. Net Neutrality, of course, is a movement seeking to prohibit Internet service providers from prioritizing speed and delivery of data based on the fees customers pay. Rather, Berners-Lee and other Net Neutrality supporters contend, ISPs should simply supply "connectivity with no strings attached." Berners-Lee has also been outspoken in his view that ISPs should not monitor the web browsing habits of their customers without their prior consent.
Justin Long is the Mac half of the humorous Mac and PC duo used in Apple's popular series of TV ads for its line of computer products. In each commercial, Long is depicted as the sleek, hip representative of the Apple computer line, frequently seen contrasting how easy and straightforward it is for non-tech savvy people to use Macs. Long is also seen taking clever shots at Windows and PCs in general for everything from spyware and viruses to confusing software installation and buggy applications. Essentially, Long was chosen to personify all of the most marketable and attractive attributes of Apple products and serve as a stark contrast between the "PC" character.
John Hodgman is the PC half of Apple's Mac and PC ads. While Justin Long is used to portray Apple's products in a positive light, Hodgman's purpose is to make owning a Windows PC look as old and outdated as possible. While Long wears comfortable street clothes, Hodgman is typically shown wearing a stuffy corporate suit befitting of an accountant or cubicle drone. While Long is seen touting the fun of editing movies and music, Hodgman often refers to business computing tasks like editing spreadsheets. While the incessant back-and-forth bickering between Long and Hodgman is undoubtedly funny, the marketing message is lost on no one. Own a Mac and you're cool, own a PC and you're lame. Both actors were chosen for no other reason than to drive this point home in every commercial they appear in together.
Best known as Winnie Cooper (Kevin Arnold's sweetheart on the late 80's sitcom The Wonder Years), Danica Mae McKellar was evidently a nerd hiding in a girl nextdoor's body. After the show ended, McKellar majored in mathematics at UCLA, joined the Alpha Delta Pi sorority and co-authored a scholarly scientific paper before graduating summa cum laude in 1998. McKellar went on to write two New York Times bestsellers: the first was called Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, while the second, released in August 2008, was entitled Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss. Her motivation for taking up math education as a cause, McKellar revealed in an interview, is ""to show girls that math is accessible and relevant, and even a little glamorous" and also to discourage "damaging social messages telling young girls that math and science aren't for them."
Anyone who has watched much late-night TV during the last decade has undoubtedly seen this man screaming and yelling about "all the free money" you can get by purchasing his book. Matthew Lesko, the enthusiastic and geeky expert on federally-awarded grant money, makes his living by running around in a question-marked sportcoat and hawking a hefty manual of government money programs you may or may not qualify for. Typical of Lesko's promotional style is this commercial, in which Lesko screams at viewers in his trademark "geek squeak" about how hard he's worked to get free money for ordinary Americans. Lesko also holds an MBA from American University and is rumored to drive a mini-cooper covered in question marks as his personal vehicle (although he's frequently been seen riding scooters around Washington D.C. according to the Washington Post.)
One of the most memorable and comical geeky spokespeople of the last decade is William Shatner, who has become synonymous with Priceline.com. While Shatner will always be best known by his unforgettable role as Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek, Shatner has made quite a name for himself as the "Priceline Negotiator" in a long-running series of TV ads for the popular air travel price comparison and booking service. Amazingly, Shatner's Priceline ads have been so well received by TV viewers that Priceline now makes them available on a special section of their company website in the event that people want to watch them for a good laugh. From a corporate standpoint, what could be better than ads that people not only don't mind seeing, but also actively seek out and search for? It's doubtful whether anyone would care to watch a Priceline ad today without the geeky spokesmanship Shatner provides.
On the strength of the runaway success Priceline enjoyed by running ads featuring William Shatner, someone in the marketing department had the clever idea to pair Shatner with his Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy, who famously played the role of Spock. Nimoy (above left) can be seen displaying the timeless Vulcan sign language greeting "live long and prosper" during the ads he participates in, and typically is used to promote Priceline's "Shop & Compare" feature while Shatner focuses on the "Name Your Own Price" service. The two can be seen here partially reprising their Star Trek roles and bickering over which Priceline service each of them should focus on promoting.
While not typically thought of as a "geek" in the sense of some of the other names we've covered, Ashton Kutcher has quietly made a name for himself as a promoter of technology related products. Most recently, Kutcher has starred in TV ads for Nikon's Coolpix Style line of digital cameras. According to GeekAbout.com, Kutcher went on record as saying "I think technology today represents so much more than just function - it represents personal style and sophistication." In addition to promoting technology on TV, Kutcher has also built a following of more than 4 million people on Twitter, a fact mentioned in the recent spoof video Entrepreneur State of Mind.
Unbeknownst to many, longtime comedic actor Robin Williams has a soft spot for tech and gadgetry. In their article on Hollywood's secret celebrity geeks, PC World describes Williams as a "hardcore gamer" who "has a reputation as a serious gadget hound" and has even "spoken informally at a number of fun tech firms, including a keynote at Google Inc." As if that didn't cement Williams' geek status, the multiple time Oscar winner also named his now 20-year-old daughter Zelda. And as Switched.com explains, that choice of names was not at all a coincidence. Not only was she deliberately named after the video game character; she also appears to be an even bigger gadget lover than her old man.
Most of us probably didn't fancy Brian May a geek the first time we heard Queen cuts like "Fat Bottom Girls" or "Another One Bites The Dust." But as the guitar virtuoso entered the twilight of his music career, he began writing an ambitiously new (and studious) chapter in his life. As PC World explains, the 62 year old Man successfully obtained his Ph.D. in astrophysics in 2007 from London's Imperial College on the strength of his thesis, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. May has since gone on to parlay his advanced training into becoming chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University and a respected writer of popular science. The UK's Guardian, for instance, had May on for its Science Weekly podcast back in 2007.
Best known for his advocacy of global warming and films like An Inconvenient Truth, former vice-president Al Gore is also involved with several high-profile tech businesses. According to Gore's online biography, he is the co-founder of Current TV, an "independently owned cable and satellite television network for young people based on viewer-created content", sits on Apple's board of directors, and acts as a Special Advisor to Google. Additionally, Gore occasionally serves as a visiting professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfeesboro. Long before An Inconvenient Truth, Gore published another, lesser-known book called Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit in 1992, and graduated from Harvard University with honors in 1969.
Author and comic writer Scott Adams uses his popular Dilbert comic strip as a mouthpiece to speak out against the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy. After receiving a Bachelors degree in economics from Hartwick University in 1979 and an MBA from Haas School of Business in 1986, Adams worked alongside telecom engineers at Crocker National Bank. Following that and several other positions in corporate America, Adams had all the inspiration he needed to pen his first Dilbert comic in 1989 using various bosses and co-workers as inspiration for his characters, according to Wikipedia. Besides being a fierce critic of bureaucracy, Adams is a passionate proponent of the vegetarian lifestyle and libertarian political philosophy. Adams is also an active member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
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