From the flashy to the far out, 75 entrants have been whittled down to 30 finalists in West Hollywood's second annual Sunset Strip Billboard Awards program

And the winner is .

Following on the success of its first annual Sunset Strip Billboard Awards program last year, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on July 12 will announce the winners of this year's (second annual) event honoring the best outdoor ads along the Strip. The ceremony is being held at the House of Blues.

"A lot more people are getting involved," said Hillary Selvin, president and chief executive of the West Hollywood Chamber, which is organizing the contest.

Competition is stiffer this year, with 75 billboard nominees vs. 41 last year. The nominees have been whittled down to 30 finalists in seven categories: fashion, movies and television, entertainment and amusements, automotive, beverages, retail, and public service.

The finalists range from life-size figures climbing a billboard in an ad for the cable TV show "The Junkyard Wars," to the Evian billboard showing a mermaid drinking a bottle of French spring water.

Other contenders include billboards for ABC's "Monday Night Football," the city of West Hollywood and the L.A. Marathon, all being seen by as many as 1.5 million people during their respective runs.

"The Sunset Strip is like an outdoor exhibition for posters," said Liliane Lerch, creative director for Beige Communications in Venice.

The year-round exhibition is posted on the 100 billboards that line the 1.6-mile Strip running through West Hollywood. Rents for the prime spaces run from $30,000 to $50,000 a month. Given the density of billboards and the expense to rent space, creative directors have to be imaginative to get their clients' message across.

"The Sunset Strip is where everybody shows off. It's the epicenter of West Coast culture. It's where you go to look hot, see and be seen. The same for the billboards," said Rick Robinson, national creative director for Infinity Outdoor, the country's largest outdoor advertising company.

That's illustrated in the Gucci billboards, which show a sultry-looking woman sitting at the feet of a man whose shirtless body is only visible from the chest down.

The idea of holding an annual billboard contest came from West Hollywood City Councilman Steve Martin, who wanted to promote the Strip and raise awareness about the advertising potential along the boulevard. He took his idea to the West Hollywood Chamber, which decided to produce the event.

Winners at last year's first annual awards included Apple Computers' "Desi & Lucy" tall wall, Sauza Tequila's "Life is Harsh" billboard, and Volkswagen's "Skybar" billboard.

For decades, the Sunset Strip has been an outdoor art gallery for urban pop culture. Throughout the 1980s, there were scores of billboards for fashion houses. Then car ads became prevalent.

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