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who are the ad wizards that came up with that one?

There are a lot of summer movies this summer. It's not that there's ever any shortage, but this summer we seem to have an awful lot. I don't know if the upsurge is a response to the few months that the entertainment industry "took off" out of respect to the 9/11 situation or if it's just a coincidence, but it's a summer-movie summer, and a sequel summer at that. (I'm having fun watching the original on DVD right before trotting off to see the sequel. So far, it was great fun with X2: X-Men United and The Matrix Reloaded, and Bad Boys and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider are near the top of my Netflix list, so they'll arrive in time for their respective sequels.)

One of the few non-sequel summer movies that's coming out this year is called S.W.A.T. and features Colin Farrell and Michelle Rodriguez as cops on L.A.'s S.W.A.T. team. (I think "S.W.A.T. team" may be like "PIN number"; if so, please forgive me.) It looks somewhat interesting, but I would say there's a 60% chance of it slipping through the cracks of my viewing schedule in such a busy summer. I really like the billboards, though.

Your town probably isn't as much of a billboard town as L.A. is. In fact, Billboard Town is probably less of a billboard town than L.A. We've got a lot of 'em. And most of them are for movies and TV shows, which is something that's always surprised me. We've got thousands upon thousands of movie and TV ads on buses and bus shelters and billboards and sides of buildings – but this is Hollywood! This is where all that stuff comes from. We don't need to be made aware of it! It's like having "In case of emergency, dial 9-1-1" posters on the wall at the 911 call center.

But we've got 'em, and like anything else in advertising, the key is to set yourself apart. In most cases, this means bursting outside the rectangular design, with those little tack-on elements that extend over the border of the regular sign. Also popular is the "teaser" campaign, where you put up some quizzical sign that encourages people to watch that spot for the real ad to come. (Advertising an ad... now that's marketing!) This approach reminds me of the "Gabbo" episode of The Simpsons, and I'm not a fan. I did like the Godzilla campaign, which was centered on the monster's gargantuan size. Bus posters said "his foot is the size of this bus" and one very clever billboard campaign actually utilized two billboards across the street from each other on La Brea. As you rounded the corner, the two billboards read "His tail would reach from here..." and "... to here." Very nice; the movie was horrible, and if you actually put together all the elements that the signs referred to, the animal would not be to scale, but I thought the two-billboard thing was clever. (This also reminds me of the Armageddon sign that was hung over one side of an L.A. office building, giving the illusion that a meteorite had punched a giant hole in the building like in the movie. They had to take it down because rubberneckers who believed it was real were tying up the 105 freeway.)

So, you're the advertising guy and you're trying to make your billboards stand out. The "outside the box" thing has been done and the 3D thing is expensive (we had a giant fuzzy spider poking out of a billboard on Wilshire to promote Eight-Legged Freaks and it looked terrible). The S.W.A.T. team (and here I'm talking about the marketing team for the movie S.W.A.T., so I'm off the hook) hit upon a stroke of genius. They just took the billboard away. Their billboards are just four huge letters, mounted straight on the slats. A big S, W, A, and T with little periods. And across the A it reads "August 8th." They took down the big rectangle altogether. I love it! I don't know why, but the effect is captivating. I pass one on La Brea on my way to work every day and I just stare at it. (Don't worry, I'm at a light waiting to make a left.) For some reason, it really grabs my attention. I guess it kind of reminds me of that "Miami" sign you see in the movies, or the Hollywood sign. It just looks cool. Particularly, I think, because the simulated billboard-removal effect has been done so much recently. The Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle billboards feature Drew Barrymore crashing a motorbike through the billboard or Cameron Diaz surfing (?) through one. (Bank of America's "Free Checking. Plus plus plus. Plus." billboards also use this approach.) But they're faking it and, beside that, they make a crucial mistake that erodes the believability of the effect: they put a blue sky in the part where the billboard has apparently been punched through. We don't get blue skies in L.A. – it just looks like a billboard with a blue sky painted on it.

Also, I like the typeface a lot. Bank Gothic – I used it recently in a DVD I designed. And the oblique version shows up in the opening title sequence of Boomtown, possibly the best TV opening sequence in years. So, the S.W.A.T. billboards may actually turn me around from a 60% unlikely viewer to a 100% likely viewer, which would be quite an achievement indeed for such a seemingly outdated form of advertising. In any event, I love looking at my copy on La Brea every morning.