University of Maryland economist Peter Morici stars in a commercial for Kyocera copiers. (Courtesy of Seiter & Miller Advertising)

Cable-news junkies are used to seeing University of Maryland economist Peter Morici hold forth on taxes or trade, so it may require a double-take to process his latest TV gig:

The professor is flacking office copiers.

“As an economist I frequently speak with business leaders,” Morici begins in an ad for Kyocera now running on Fox, MSNBC and Bloomberg TV, outlets that often tap him for pundit duty. “And I’m shocked — no, outraged! — at how some companies manage their printing.”

(Courtesy of Seiter & Miller Advertising)

In another spot, the bowtied PhD — whose wonkish specs and expressive eyebrows suggest a happier Ben Stein — lectures about the “total cost of ownership” or TCO: “Many companies buy the lowest-cost printer they can find and then end up paying two or three times as much for service and supplies. Bad fiscal policy!”

How’d this come about? Morici told us he got a mysterious e-mail several months ago with the dubious subject header, “product endorsement opportunity” — but something told him to open it. It was from Seiter & Miller, a New York City ad agency that had been hired by the Japanese multinational to find a different kind of pitchman.

“We weren’t looking for a personality or a celebrity,” said Kyocera’s marketing Vice President Peter Hendrick. “We wanted someone with business credibility.” Morici, he said, immediately stood out from Seiter’s short ­list of economists and business savants: With his straightforward delivery, “he has a very unique personality and charisma.” When Morici, during a meeting to discuss Kyocera’s talking points, uttered the phrase, “It’s really not that complicated!” Hendrick says they knew they’d found their man. The line became part of the ad.

The university, unnamed in the spots, had no trouble with a prof starring in a commercial. “He was born to do this,” said Ken White, a spokesman for U-Md.’s Smith School of Business. Morici (who wouldn't say what he was paid) says the message of the ads fell within his own comfort zone: “After all, Kyocera is very respected for the quality of their products,” he said, staying on message. Is he really a Kyocera user? Well, now he is. “I have one at home now, and it’s really a very good little machine.”

Video: Peter Morici in Kyocera ad

Video: Peter Morici in Kyocera ad