Think Profits

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Sifting through ads for sale on the Web gives an indication of what the general public likes -- or at least, what hobbyist collectors like. On eBay, the long-running print ads for Absolut and "Got Milk?" are popular, as well as posters from the Apple "Think Different" campaign, which feature black and white images of such celebs as Ricky and Lucy, Alfred Hitchcock, Ansel Adams and Richard Feynman. At press time, bids on posters featuring Gandhi, Hitchcock and Amelia Earhart ran over the $100 mark.

What makes an ad a worthy purchase? Especially in the more exclusive, upscale collections, rarity is key. Nicholas Lowry, who oversees the poster collection at auction house Swann Galleries, New York, says whether an ad is collectible depends on the number of people who keep it. "Advertising posters were never meant to be saved," he says. "Because they're so ephemeral, that's what gives them their value."

Other factors that contribute to an advertising item's value, according to Gail Davidson, assistant curator of drawings and prints at New York's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, are the artist and the creativity of presentation. Graphic design guru Milton Glaser says that "The original impulse for the poster was that it should be understandable to those walking by without a serious commitment of time. Commercial posters moved increasingly toward the synthesis of an idea -- a very direct visual, very easily understood statement -- so that once you saw it, the act of recognition would penetrate your consciousness."

The award-winning Apple ads might just fit the bill for future value. First of all, they're rare. According to Apple spokesperson Rhona Hamilton, the posters were distributed only at trade shows, and in-house to employees. She said a very limited number were sent out for free to consumers willing to pay postage and handling. Also, the ads effectively integrate recognizable cultural icons with a simple advertising message.

Some collectors, however, might just "think different." Bernard Metz, a Philadelphia attorney, says he bid on a set of posters on eBay because they featured his personal heroes Jim Henson and Richard Feynman. "To be honest," he adds, "I would like the posters more if they didn't have the stupid Apple logo and `Think Different' slogan plastered on them."

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