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After two years of roughly 20% dollar sales growth for the U.S.'s best-selling baked beans brand, Bush Brothers & Co. sales grew only 12.5% in 1996, according to Information Resources Inc.

But managers of other brands aren't likely to feel sympathy. The baked beans category gained only 0.9%, and Bush Brothers' $16.3 million sales increase, to $146.8 million, was nearly five times the $3.4 million gain for the whole $379 million category.

The secret recipe for Bush Brothers started with TV spots from Cole Henderson Drake, Atlanta, that broke nationally in 1994. Ads feature family member Jay Bush saying he's only revealed the family recipe to his dog, who's "not talking." But the dog proves him wrong by uttering a cue to "roll that beautiful bean footage."

"We have a 3-1 advantage in blind taste tests," Brand Manager Bill Linton said last fall. "So if we can just get trial, we've won."

For Mr. Linton, 36, a former Procter & Gamble Co. brand manager, the solution for generating trial was advertising, with steadily improving results.

In 1995, to get more for its media budget, Bush Brothers turned to Media That Works, Cincinnati. The media-buying service developed a strategy designed to extend the number of weeks ads ran and reach the broadest audience rather than generate the most impressions.

"If you've got effective copy," Mr. Linton said, "and you reach someone more than one time, you're really wasting some" gross ratings points.

Cole Henderson Drake has since resigned, and W.B. Doner & Co., Baltimore, took over creative this year for beans and a new Chili Magic line.

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