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Advertising is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Associated Business Products, Salt Lake City, certainly couldn't have expected the reaction created by its radio campaign inspired by the "Forrest Gump" movie.

Public response has been greater to this advertising than any other in the business' 20-year history, said President Lee Archer, noting sales are up 10% from last year.

A subsidiary of Alco Standard, Valley Forge, Pa., Associated Business wanted to stand out from its competitors. Mr. Archer asked the company's ad agency, Hunter Barth, Irvine, Calif., to use the Gump character-a man of integrity and honesty-in a campaign.

Hunter wrote and produced the campaign. Among the Gumpisms included were: "Most copiers are like traffic. You never know when they're going to jam." "Canon has been the No. 1 selling copier for 12 years running, and being something of an expert on running, I can tell you that says a lot." "Like my mama always said, `Doing what's right sure beats the devil out of being wrong.'*" The ads often close with, "Tell them your mama said to call."

Associated Business got permission to mimic the Forrest Gump character from Warner Bros., which owns the movie, but the studio asked that the Forrest Gump name not be used.

The five spots have run exclusively on radio since November in four states: Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Colorado. About $300,000 has been spent on the campaign to date. While all spots focus on Canon USA products, Canon had nothing to do with their creation and approved them only in that they met co-op ad criteria.

Not everyone liked the Forrest Gump theme, including some Associated Business employees. The company found objectors typically hadn't seen the movie. As a result, Associated Business spent about $2,500 to rent theaters in the four-state area and had nearly 500 of its 700 employees see the film. Negative opinions largely turned positive, Mr. Archer said.

To members of the public who complained-fewer than 10-the company sent a videotape of the film and a copy of the book, "Gumpisms: The Wit & Wisdom of Forrest Gump" by Winston Groom (who wrote the novel on which the film was based).

At a recent trade show when a customer complained, Mr. Archer mentioned a few of his competitors and asked, "What can you tell me about any of our key competitors' ad messages? The man replied: `You know, now that you've mentioned it, I hear their ads but they go right over my head because there's nothing unique about them."'

Sounds like something mama mighta said.

Mr. Horowitz is a correspondent with Business Marketing.

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