LOCAL FOLKS: Grocery store worker stars in local TV ad you can't forget

TUPELO – Tanner Wakins cuts meat at the Crosstown Kroger, but most people know him as the surly debt collector in the Denvil Crowe law firm commercial.
Wakins, 23, had no idea how famous he’d become when his mother asked him to star in the local spot nearly two years ago. But he said he’s now frequently recognized and asked to pose for photographs with his mean mug.
“I knew it’d be funny at the time, but to be honest with you, I am still shocked at how popular it is,” said Watkins of the 30-second spot. “Here it is, a year and a half later, and people are still coming up to me. Advertising works.”
In the commercial, Watkins stands in front of a wall of flames and sings “Pay me, pay me, pay me. Pay me, pay me now.” A female voice off camera responds, also singing, that she can’t afford to pay and has a family to feed.
Watkins says he doesn’t care, so the female threatens to call Denvil Crowe. Now looking scared, Wakins ends with “Don’t you dare.”
The cheesy commercial, which is sung off key, is a recreation of a popular North Carolina attorney’s ad. And it’s gained a legion of fans across the region. People have blogged about it, there are links to the spot on YouTube, and even the haters admit it’s a catchy commercial.
“This ad left me speechless,” said one online commentator. “It’s so bad, it’s genius.”
In real life, though, Wakins isn’t at all mean. He said he’s a big joker and enjoys computers and cooking. He’s also a sucker for his four pets and proudly boasts the anniversary date of his wedding to high-school sweetheart, Jamie Watkins.
When he wears his baseball cap and glasses, Watkins barely resembles his alter ego. In fact, he said he once had to remove both to convince a skeptic he was indeed the TV spot star. After he did, she got excited, Watkins said.
Besides playing a Roman centurion in a church play, the Tupelo resident had never acted before. His involvement in the Denvil Crowe commercial, Watkins said, was pure coincidence.
“My mom is in advertising at WTVA, and Denvil Crowe is her client,” Wakins said. “He described what he wanted for the commercial, and I had just shaved my head about two weeks beforehand. My mom told him, ‘I’ve got your guy.’”
Filming took 45 minutes, and Watkins said the voice isn’t his. It was dubbed in later, along with the female voice.
Since then, Watkins hasn’t actively sought other advertising gigs but said he’s open to further possibilities.
“I have the perfect amount of popularity,” Watkins said. “I get recognized, but I don’t have people following me around everywhere I go.”
Not yet, anyway.
Contact Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal