With the ascent of viral marketing and Web video, corporations increasing are trying to get customers to make advertising on their behalf, via contests . Trouble is, most customers don't care enough to create these spots in the first place, and when they do the ads tend to be terribly embarrassing. Enter Joel Moss Levinson, the college dropout who, after 40 other jobs, has turned low-budget YouTube ad production into something of a living. According to the Times' Stephanie Clifford, Levinson earned $200,000 in cash and prizes from videos promoting psoriasis research, watermelon and Israeli tourism. And the recession may make him even richer!

He won $100,000 from Klondike after filming himself in the Arctic singing about Klondike bars. He won four months worth of free hotel stays from Best Western for a song he performed about his water cooler. When Little Penguin wine asked customers to film their best pickup line, Mr. Levinson submitted a video of his efforts to pick up a toy penguin, and won a trip to Australia. ...this year, Doritos intends to run a user-generated commercial during the next Super Bowl, and [is] offering $1 million to the winner.

Yes, it's ironic that Levinson has made something of a profession out of making amateur videos (he's won 11 contests in what sounds like about a year and a half). But with the ranks of the unemployed growing by the week, and in the wake of the Times story, the competition is bound to get more intense, and the pickings thus slimmer.

Sell out for a soul-sucking Madison Avenue gig while you still can, Joel! Or not.

Some of his videos:

I Wish the Whole Middle East Looked More Like Israel (Levinson also won the German version of this contest. He doesn't speak German.)

My Water Cooler Loves to Dance All Night (Not sure why this was worth "four months worth of free hotel stays" to Best Western, but it was!)

More Beef in More Places! (Levinson won an iPod, but could have used some cash: “I couldn’t even buy steak for the video so I had to use chili.”)

Mr. Watermelon, Party Fruit