The surfer glides across the face of a curling blue wave, a soothing guitar strumming in the background. The words performance, quality, and innovation flash across the screen, followed by a montage of attractive, suntanned men and women--each clutching a shiny new surfboard. The message is clear: Wouldn't you like one of these boards too?

The 30-second television spot, produced by Channel Islands Surfboards last fall, aired 432 times in the greater Santa Barbara area on six national cable channels, including ESPN and MTV. Channel Islands, the board of choice for perennial world champion Kelly Slater and other pros, had just opened a new retail store and wanted to spread the word. The TV ads did the trick, sparking a late-season rush that helped Channel Islands nearly double its expected retail sales for the final three months of 2005. Best of all was the campaign's price tag: $3,000. "I still laugh when I think about how easy and affordable it was," says Terri Merrick, who runs the company with her husband, Al.

There's a revolution going on in television advertising, led by an enterprising start-up called Spot Runner, which is making the fabled 30-second spot available to marketers of all sizes at prices starting at $499. The Los Angeles-based company, which was founded in March 2004 and went live last January, is the most recent creation of serial entrepreneurs Nick Grouf and David Waxman. During the Internet boom, the duo founded Firefly, which made tools for online collaboration, and PeoplePC, an early Internet service provider. Both companies, which were sold to Microsoft and EarthLink, respectively, harnessed the democratizing powers of the Internet, says Waxman. Now, with Spot Runner, he and Grouf have taken aim at making the power of Madison Avenue available to businesses of all sizes.

Working with a team of advertising veterans, Spot Runner has created a library of thousands of professionally produced television commercials, complete with slick photography, music, and graphics. Using Spot Runner's Web-based technology, marketers can go online, select the ad template they like, and customize it to suit the needs of their business. Once the spot has been produced, Spot Runner's technology makes it easy to create a media plan. The company keeps an up-to-the-minute inventory of the blocks of time available on networks and cable channels nationwide--time slots that are a lot less expensive than you might think. Most 30-second time slots cost less than $100; the price can be as little as $10 in smaller markets. Using this tool, you can lay out an entire ad campaign with just a few mouse clicks.

For Channel Islands, putting the campaign together was a simple three-step process. Using keywords such as "wave" and "surf," Merrick scrolled through Spot Runner's catalog to find a template to build her ad around. Spot Runner works with independent videographers and is constantly updating its library; for an extra fee, it will produce custom videos from scratch. Channel Islands paid an extra $99--for a total of about $600--to insert several custom images of its surfboards and an invitation to visit its new retail store into the ad.

Spot in hand, Merrick moved on to selecting where and when her new commercial would run. Again using the Spot Runner interface, Merrick clicked on a calendar to see what time slots were available on what networks and how much they cost. For her first 12-week campaign, Merrick worked with a budget of about $2,500 to choose time slots and cable stations. Then, with a final click, she launched Channel Islands' first foray into TV advertising. Total time from start to airtime: five days.

Merrick was impressed by Spot Runner's selection of pre-shot video clips, but advertising executives who make their living producing commercials say that the canned nature of the commercials could turn off potential customers. "The ads come across like they're from the yellow pages," says Tim Tennant, CEO of Conductor, an ad agency in Santa Monica, California, that won several awards last year for its AXE deodorant commercials. Chuck Porter, founder of Miami ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, says the $499 price is right, but wonders if Channel Islands' ad sets it apart from other marketers. "This is the same clip-art footage that auto dealers and lawyers have been using for years," Porter says.

Nevertheless, Merrick has been pleased with the results of her campaign. "We finally found a way to reach the parents who buy boards for their kids," she says. When she dabbled with local newspaper and radio ads in the past, she found them to be expensive and ineffective. "The ads were always kind of hokey," she says, "and didn't reflect the quality of our product." Now, she says, new customers come into the Channel Islands store raving about the company's TV commercial.

Indeed, Merrick is now preparing to roll out an even more ambitious, $10,000 campaign with Spot Runner this summer. The commercial, which will be updated to showcase Channel Islands' newest boards, will be shown on family networks like Disney, in addition to the usual sports channels. Merrick is also thinking about running the ad in San Diego and other surfing hotbeds. "I never knew advertising could be so painless," she says.