Five years ago, Robert Keith Vicino, now 29, tried to marry his hobby -- hot-air ballooning -- with his Connecticut advertisind business. It didn't work. People remembered his balloons but not the products advertised on them.

But that failure gave him an inspiration: He would bring his balloons down to earth.

"Huge objects draw attention," he explains. "I'm six-foot-eight and when I walk into a room, eyeballs home in on me very quickly." Thirty-foot-tall product replicas, he figured, would draw the same kind of notice. By 1981, Robert Keith & Co. of San Diego had annual revenues of $6 million, a staff of 100, and a long list of major corporate clients, including Miller Brewing, Heublein, R.J. Reynolds, PepsiCo, Atari, and United Artists.

Vicino's product-replica balloons are filled with plain cold air, rather than hot air or helium, and they simply stand on the ground. "Being earthbound, our balloons invite people to get close to them and become involved," he says. "Viewers can punch them, kick them, or try to hug them. This brings the product being advertised to life."

The inflatables come in all shapes and sizes, and are used in various ways by clients. A 30-foot-long camel created for San Francisco radio station KMEL is lent to station advertisers. A Kenworth truck dealership in Mexico sends its life-size inflatable truck tractor all over the country to dealers and exhibits. PepsiCola Bottling Co. of San Diego perches its 20-foot-tall Mountain Dew and Pepsi cans atop supermarket roofs.

"We're creating advertising that's fun -- that doesn't scream, yell blare or ring out at the audience," Vicino says "It pulls viewers toward it rather than pushing them away."