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If you want a TV ad that's tried and true, consider buying a used one. Don't laugh. Some great local ads are seen by only a small audience in one of more than 200 U.S. TV markets and can easily work for a small business in another city. Or an ad may even cross the seas, such as one with a soccer-playing cow that delighted Swiss audiences and later aired in a spot for Broughton's Dairy in Marietta, Ohio.

''Many ads strike a universal chord, and humor spots have wide appeal,'' says Henry Whitfield, president of 12-year-old AdExchange in San Francisco, which has a library of some 1,600 local syndicated commercials for sale.

NEW LOGO. Selling syndicated commercials in the U.S. and abroad is a quirky but growing niche in the $186 billion ad industry. Generally, local advertisers pay from $3,000 to $6,000 for unlimited one-year use of an ad that might have cost a small fortune to make. The recycling act may be as simple as slapping on a new logo at the end, particularly if the script is fairly generic or pertains to your own industry. Usually, you need a new voice-over.

Some commercials are easily transferable from one business to another. Ads that stress a concept or create a mood work best--for example, an orangutan that makes faces in response to comments about a rival's service. This famous syndicated campaign, produced in the early '90s for South Carolina Federal Savings Bank (now First Union Corp.), is still in use by banks and car dealerships.

For buyers, used ads offer affordability, quality, and a track record. Dan Seidler, marketing director at furniture retailer The Bedroom Inc. in Coon Rapids, Minn., used a feel-good Fourth of July spot ''right out of the can.'' But with other ads, he edits out furniture items he doesn't carry. Still, he says, these ads have ''a higher quality and nicer look than what you could do on your own.''

To find syndicated ads for your business, check out local ad agencies, video production houses, or syndication brokers such as AdvantEdge Advertising in New York and AdExchange in San Francisco. There just might be a commercial that fits like a well-made suit. A used one, that is.

By Edith Hill Updike in New York

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Updated Oct. 2, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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