It’s not very often that a tv spot inspires me enough to go online and research further into the story behind the ad. But the Amex spot entitled “Small Business Owner Anthem” recently did just that.

Catching a glimpse of Warren Brown (Cakelove) and other small business owners such as Chris Zane (Zane’s Cycles); Sue Kirchoffer (Moravian Florists); Laureen and David Barber(Blue Hill Restaurant); Bobby Oppenheim (Triple Eight); and Paul Cernuto (High Tech Landscapes) was compelling enough for me to dig a little deeper into the story behind the ad.

In a recent article for The Wall Street Journal, “Entrepreneurs: The New Celebrities,” Warren Brown was singled out for embodying the spirit of small business. The founder of the popular (and critically-acclaimed) Washington, DC bakery chain CakeLove, Brown is the focus of inspiring ad campaigns for several big-time companies.

Highlighting how business can thrive during the downtown, American Express and Dell (“Take Your Own Path”) have both featured Warren Brown and CakeLove, showcasing its authenticity and commitment to greatness that forms a quality, inspiring business model. While these ads have raised CakeLove’s profile and generated sales, Brown enjoyed participating in something that “acknowledged

[that] in the midst of this terrible season that we can make it through.”

The small business owner in me was inspired, and the marketer in me was intrigued.

In support of the Amex OPEN marketing push, Marcy Shinder, VP-brand management for American Express OPEN, has driven her team to make extensive use of social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to connect with small-business owners and drive them to the OPEN Forum site. Marcy has more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, and she uses the network to tweet about small businesses and provide resources to entrepreneurs. So far, Twitter has driven more than 50,000 users to the OPEN Forum site.

“We call it “earned media,’ ” Shinder said. “We put something out there that is so valuable, people share it on their own.”

The ‘entrepreneur as pitchman’ angle has its appeal in this still-tenuous economy. Audiences can relate to the struggle of the small business owner, as many are still harboring grudges for the big corporations that contributed to the downfall of the U.S. economy.

Also, given the wake of celebrity embarrassment (see Tiger Woods), brands like Amex are safer hedging their bets with unknown entrepreneurs who are generally trying to play it straight. They are pretty unlikely to send the brand into a PR tailspin that others have encountered.

So, what did you think of the ad…inspiring, engaging, MEH..?