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THIS IS THE story of a man named William and the woman he met and lost.
It happened at a downtown bar. It was a weekend night and the place was crowded. He noticed her from across the room. She was blond, wore a red dress, and was about the best thing he had ever seen.

Unfortunately, William hesitated. Then, she was gone.

He had to find her.

It was, he thought, the woman of his dreams; the one he always hoped to meet, but never had.

We all know how he felt.

Everyone, at one time or another, fantasizes about the ideal mate. We all know, at least until experience teaches us otherwise, that there is a perfect match for each of us; someone who is attractive, understands our innermost feelings and accepts us unconditionally.

In "American Graffiti," the image of perfection was the blond-haired girl in the white car. For William, it was the "angel in red."

Other guys might privately pine away, haunt the same place night after night in hope she might be there.

William was different. He rented a billboard overlooking the Kensington Expressway.

It read: "Angel in red, I saw you at (a downtown bar). Love to meet you -- William."

The next week, there was another billboard plea: "Angel in red, still waiting. Friday, at (downtown bar)."

People driving on the Kensington noticed. A lot of them mentioned it to their friends, co-workers, husbands or wives. Was this guy for real?

Maybe.

He took out a classified ad in the Meeting Place, the Buffalo News personals.

He called WHTT disc jockey Tanya Brown on the air a couple of times to explain his plight.

He hired a plane to fly an "Angel in red" plea over Pilot Field during a Bisons game.

People in the media noticed. Calls were made to the downtown bar. Each time, the manager on duty claimed the billboard was not an ad taken out by the bar.

The billboards changed each week, as William's pursuit continued.

"Angel in red, I'm going broke with these billboards. (Bar), Friday night."

Finally, suspiciously, an answer came two weeks ago, allegedly from the "angel in red."

For even the most gullible, it was hard to swallow.

We can believe one person is obsessed enough to spend hundreds of dollars a week in the name of unrequited love. We cannot believe he would be answered in kind, particularly when contact could be made for the price of a phone call or stamp.

Obviously, William was a figment of an advertiser's imagination.

The ad in the Meeting Place, the phone calls to the radio station, the plane over Pilot Field were apparently ploys to give "William" credibility, to make his pursuit seem real.

Of course, no one involved is admitting anything. To do so would shatter the illusion. The messages continue, the current one an angry warning to "Wee Willie" from the angel's boyfriend.

Jim Sukiennik of Penn Advertising, who handles the "William" account, wouldn't reveal his client's name. But he talked a lot about creative advertising, and said Buffalo lagged behind the rest of the country in innovative billboard ads.

Which means, in effect, that Willliam" has been in other places; he just took a while to get here.

Revealingly, too, neither of the bar's owners -- the ones who would place the ad, even if they didn't tell their employees about it -- returned numerous phone calls last week.

So, no, odds are there is no William. There is just us, the target market.

We were hooked but, ultimately, left hanging. Like any good ad, this one approximated life; it made not just a cerebral connection, but an emotional one.

There will be other Williams, other fanciful tricks that take advantage of human nature. We will fall for them, too, because we want to believe.

We are suckers for a good story, a story that touches something in all of us -- maybe the best thing -- and in that mass appeal reveals the emotional bond that connects us. This is why Americans know who Jessica McClure is. And Christa McAuliffe.

This is why, for a little while, we believed in William, or at least wanted to. That part of human nature, that gullibility, is also the thing that makes us reach out, makes us identify with and feel for others, even those we have never met.

The day when a story of someone's search for an ideal loses its appeal will be a frightening one indeed.

So chalk one up for advertising. But chalk one up for human nature as well, because the same gullibility the advertisers prey on is the part of us we can least do without.

There is no William, but there is something in each of us that wanted to believe there was. And that, not he, is what matters.

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