God is in violation of a Los Angeles city ordinance, and the city has a good shot at a conviction because where He lives, it's pretty tough to find a lawyer.
A couple of weeks ago, Eller Media Co. donated space on one of its wallscape billboards in downtown L.A. to the national "Message of God" campaign, a non-denominational ad blitz sponsored by an anonymous donor in Florida intended to promote the big CEO in the sky.
"Keep using my name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer," shouts the message signed by God. The 25-foot by 95-foot billboard is mounted on the side of a building wall that is clearly visible from the Santa Monica (10) Freeway.
It was a nice public service by Eller to donate space, and marks the first time a wall has been used in the "Message of God" campaign. But the fact is that technically, the wall-sized sign is illegal. Let's not pick on God and Eller, though, because every wall sign in Los Angeles violates the city's sign ordinance.
That may be about to change. Some city officials appear to believe that since you can't stop the outdoor media industry, you might as well slap a few rules on it.
Drive down Highland Avenue from the Ventura (101) Freeway off-ramp and you'll see a pair of giant, illegal wall-sized billboards. There are several more in the downtown area, and a handful of others spread around the city. The famous ones along Sunset Boulevard don't count because they're in the city of West Hollywood, which allows them.
The Los Angeles signs are illegal because of a city ordinance stating that off-site signs (those that aren't located on the building where the advertised business is located) can't be larger than 800 square feet. God's billboard is 2,375 square feet.
Why isn't this ordinance more tightly enforced? "I don't know," said City Councilman Mike Feuer, perhaps the only person on the council who has made regulating billboards a legislative priority. Other city officials didn't want to speculate, either. But politics may have something to do with it.
L.A. is not heralded for the effectiveness of its building-code enforcement arm, though certain areas do seem to get more attention than others. In Westwood, advertisers have tried repeatedly to paint billboards on a medical building on Wilshire Boulevard, only to be forced to take them down after fierce community opposition led to government action.
Why does enforcement happen in Westwood and not elsewhere? Perhaps because few other parts of the city have such powerful, wealthy and politically connected homeowners groups. Or because Westwood is part of Feuer's district, and Feuer doesn't like billboards.
"In my district, I want people to adhere by the rules," he said.
But Feuer is also going to take part in the process of changing those rules to allow wall-sized billboards, as long as they adhere to a series of regulations.
Feuer's chief field deputy, Rochelle Ventura, sits on a task force of the Cultural Affairs Commission that is drafting an ordinance on what it calls "supergraphics." The ordinance would allow such signs in the city, but place restrictions on things like where and how far apart they must be located, their size, and the amount of text that can be printed on them.
Of course, since no one seems to be enforcing the existing ordinance, you have to wonder whether the new one will have much meaning. Feuer says the committee is working to come up with practical enforcement measures.
That he's put one of his staff members on the task force might seem a turnabout for Feuer, who has called billboards "visual blight." But he says the existing ordinance wasn't really created with wall-sized billboards in mind, and since they already exist, it's important to have a say in how they are regulated.
Speaking of walls
The aforementioned medical building in Westwood has been reminiscent of the final scene from "Planet of the Apes" for the past four months: the Statue of Liberty's disembodied head and shoulders are painted on the side of the building, with the rest of the statue painted over in white.
The strange sight remains because of an ongoing dispute between the artist who painted the sign and the city.
In February, city officials interrupted artist Mike McNeilly in the middle of his work and ordered him to paint over the sign. McNeilly, meanwhile, claims the picture is a mural rather than an advertisement, and is trying to get a permit from the Cultural Affairs Commission to allow it to remain.
A committee has already turned down McNeilly's request, but until the full Cultural Affairs Commission hears the case, the bizarre eyesore is likely to stay where it is no doubt to the extreme frustration of anti-blight groups like the Friends of Westwood.
Where there's smoke, there's Asher
One of the biggest marketing accounts in the nation is about to go up for review, and three Los Angeles-based agencies have a fairly strong shot at winning a piece of it.
The National Tobacco Control Foundation, set up as part of last year's settlement between the tobacco companies and the state attorneys general, gets $250 million this year and $300 million next year from cigarette makers to pay for anti-smoking campaigns. The organization will put out a request for proposals to agencies for advertising, public relations and media buying by the end of the year.
The giant marketing holding companies are doubtless salivating over the contract, but many will be barred. Foundation officials have said agencies that handle tobacco clients will be excluded, as will their parent companies.
That would mean a better chance for smaller independents. And one of the nation's best-known anti-tobacco marketers is L.A.-based Asher & Partners, which runs the anti-smoking campaign for the state of California.
Joel Hochberg, president of Asher, acknowledges his agency will participate in the review. Also throwing its hat in the ring is Rogers & Associates, which handles public relations on the state anti-smoking account.
California's anti-cigarette campaign has been heralded as one of the most effective in the country. Insiders say only two other states have campaigns considered as strong as California's: Florida and Massachusetts.
Also expected to participate on the media-buying side is L.A.-based Western Initiative Media.
News Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly column on marketing for the Los Angeles Business Journal.
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