LARRY BROWN HAS JUST THE AD FOR YOU . . . AND YOU AND YOU

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Marketers, as we're frequently told, are flailing about in a sea of commodity products. Could it be their life raft will be commodity advertising?

That's the improbable implication of a renegade adman, who dares posit that sameness in slogans-let alone duplication in design and propagation of propositions-is not a vice, but a virtue.

Lawrence Brown turned fevers a few degrees hotter during the sun-baked July Fourth weekend in The Hamptons. You know The Hamptons: That's the borough of New York City where advertising folk go to pretend they're not working.

All, that is, except Brown, a former writer at such legendary agencies as Carl Ally, Doyle Dane Bernbach and Wells, Rich, Greene. He fled Manhattan a decade ago, set up shop by the shore, and now roils Mad Ave's weekend warriors with ads in the local weeklies that unabashedly tout his own brilliance.

A mention of Brown's name can easily evoke a dismissive roll of the eyeballs. Still, everyone's aware of his arresting advertising for the likes of Gosman's Restaurant and Montauk's Book Shoppe. And his admirers are full of praise. Former Wells great Charlie Moss, who hired and fired Brown twice, calls him a "borderline genius."

Brown's latest self-promotional salvo, trumpeted in the July 1 East Hampton Star, aims at taking the agency business' dirty little secret and transforming it into a very profitable enterprise.

That secret is commodity advertising-ads, even whole campaigns, for local businesses that can be copied in their entirety for clients in the same category but in different geographical markets. Because these companies do not compete with each other-and because the newspapers and broadcast stations that carry their ads serve discrete ADIs-they can all benefit equally from great creative. The same great creative.

Brown says a newspaper ad he's done for Southampton's Bellringer Security-it features a picture of a jolly Santa Claus, and underneath him the line, "The only man who should be able to sneak into your house when you're asleep"-could work as easily and as well for a mythical Peoria Security Systems, and for security companies "in all the Peorias" around the world.

By renting such ads-Brown calls them "your-name-here ads"-for $100 a month and using the Internet to distribute them, Brown (who copyrights the work in his own name) figures he can pull $12 million in annual revenues in the U.S. alone, just from print, and just from work he's already created for 100 clients in eastern Long Island. In effect, he's taking Rosser Reeves' vaunted unique selling proposition and turning it inside out.

Reeves made the Ted Bates & Co. agency into a vast money machine by convincing clients to run the same advertising ("Certs is two, two, two mints in one") over and over again, arguing "if 90% [of the audience] do not remember it, the story is certainly not worn out." Brown is proposing the same thing-for multiple clients! It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "off-price advertising."

What's so delicious about Brown's concept is it takes the advertising industry's near-religious belief in the sanctity of the agency-client relationship, its adherence to the dogma of "one client-one solution," and says it's little more than what H.L. Mencken referred to as "buncombe."

"The Bud frogs," the 54-year-old Brown likes to say, "could easily be the Coors frogs." As to the singularity of a client's needs, "I do understand their problems and issues," he insisted the other day. "But as Paul McCartney said, 'People are the same everywhere.' "

The Beatles, in fact, were among Brown's inspirations for his new company, which he calls Adsimple.

com. "Most people don't realize that they're still the best-selling group, year after year," he said. "That's because Lennon and McCartney knew that everyone has the same emotions, so they wrote 1,200 great lines about those emotions, and those lines never wear out."

Another stimulus was Scali, McCabe, Sloves' Sam Scali, who, reasoning that commercial banks throughout the country all dealt with the same rules and products, once assigned Brown to create a set of 12 ads that could be sold to every such bank in America.

But Brown's ultimate inspiration was Charlie Moss, who, 30 years ago, leading the campaign to resuscitate American Motors, once told his protege: "You know, Larry, one of these days there'll be a computer, and you'll just press a button and get the ad you want."

Come Labor Day, that's Larry Brown's plan.

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