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Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Entrepreneur recycles ads for fun and profit


A young Denver entrepreneur is creating buzz in advertising circles by turning a profit from junked TV commercials.

Kevin Schaff recycles ads that cost anywhere from US$50,000 to more than US$1 million to produce, pitching them on the cheap to small businesses that can't afford the costly brainstorming, writing, filming, actors and editing that original productions require.

Schaff's company, Thought Equity, gives small companies access to top creative talent without the hefty price tag, but experts say the new ground Schaff is plowing is fraught with risk.

Thought Equity wipes the ads of all product and company references and resells them, typically for less than US$10,000.

Schaff is young -- 29 -- but he's no rookie. He started his first ad agency as a 19-year-old University of Wyoming student looking for something to put on his resume.

Most agencies that send Schaff commercials insist their names never be used because their original clients paid dearly for the original work.

And the fact that Thought Equity is copying on the cheap raises legal questions, Advertising Age magazine editor Hoag Levins said.

But Schaff argues that he's serving a market that could otherwise only dream of TV -- the most expensive and in some cases prestigious place to sell your wares.

And he said he buys the rights to what he resells.

"We're finding a market of people with US$5,000 to US$8,000 [budgets] that nobody wants to take on," Schaff said.

Companies need to advertise on a local and regional basis, said Bart Cleveland, director of creativity for Sawyer Riley Compton, an Atlanta-based advertising firm.

Thought Equity "gives busi-nesses a central place to go," Cleveland said. As for the lack of originality, he said, "In our business, there is nothing new truly. We look at what life is and think of new applications for it."

What differentiates Schaff's catalog of ads from typical stock footage and image companies is that Thought Equity sells an entire commercial, not just clips or pictures, and he works across all industries, Cleveland said.

Sawyer Riley Compton, whose clients include Philips Electronics, Dow Chemical and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co, has sent 12 ads to Thought Equity, including "Kung Fu," a humorous spot created for the Atlanta Ballet.

The ballet wanted to lure a younger audience. But some board members frowned on the ad, which shows two young slackers fake Kung-Fu fighting in their living room, so the ad went straight into the drawer.

Two years later, a school for diesel auto repair and refinishing brought the spot back to life.

WyoTech, which has a campus in Laramie, bought exclusive rights to air the ad locally.

The Atlanta and Laramie versions are exactly the same, except for the ending.

Kung Fu opens with two guys slouched in front of the TV. A commercial comes on and they're up and doing their own Jackie Chan riff, in slow motion, complete with sound effects. It ends when one guy leaps over the other, lands on the coffee table, which crashes to the floor.

"Too much free time?" says the voice over. "Go see the ballet."

The new version: "Everyone has skills. Some earn money. Enroll at WyoTech."

"I actually think the ad is more appropriate for WyoTech than the Atlanta Ballet," Cleveland said.

He declined to discuss what money changed hands but said Sawyer Riley shared its take on the resale of Kung Fu with the Atlanta Ballet.

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