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Malboro

Marlboro/17″/mike1st/mark2nd By DAN TURNER Staff Reporter One of L.A.’s most recognizable icons is riding off into the Sunset Strip, that is. The Marlboro Man, who has graced the 60-foot-high billboard that has served as the unofficial gateway to the Sunset Strip for as long as most Angelenos can remember, is being buried with his boots on. The billboard will become a victim of the settlement reached last month between the nation’s major tobacco companies and state attorneys general. The deal bans tobacco advertising on billboards, transit signs and sports stadiums, and even forbids cigarette logos on merchandise. The ban goes into effect 150 days from the date it was ratified by the states. Which means that by April 23, 1999, the smoking cowpoke will be bucked off the Strip forever. Don’t expect too many angry protests from historic preservationists. “We’re not weeping over the loss of the Marlboro Man,” said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues with the Los Angeles Conservancy. “The Sunset Strip billboards are more important collectively than any one particular image.” Yet it’s arguably L.A.’s most famous billboard, unless you count the Hollywood sign. Its Wild West images, many times bigger than life, tower over the other brightly lit eye magnets lining the West Hollywood section of Sunset. Over time, it has come to symbolize one of the most glamorous streets in the world and added an invaluable degree of panache to the Marlboro brand. “A single billboard is not going to affect sales. But it probably hurts Marlboro to let this one go, as far as the overall erosion of the brand,” said Brian Morris, president of West Hollywood-based ad agency Dailey & Associates. Even without the recent settlement, the Marlboro Man’s days may have been numbered. On Monday (Dec. 7), the West Hollywood City Council is expected to give final approval to an ordinance that would ban all tobacco billboards in the city although that ban would exempt the Sunset Strip. The city opted to exempt those boards because it feared a First Amendment lawsuit from the tobacco companies. Nonetheless, Councilman Paul Koretz, who wrote the ordinance, has been waging a behind-the-scenes campaign to convince billboard companies to take down their tobacco ads on billboards along the Strip. Those efforts and the West Hollywood ordinance are now likely moot, unless something happens to prevent the settlement from going into effect. “It’s a difficult issue for me in a way because, while I oppose tobacco advertising, I’m also a historic preservationist, and that billboard is a historic part of the city,” Koretz said. “I’d like him (the Marlboro Man) to be in a museum, like the dinosaurs.” The Marlboro Man is actually the Marlboro Men; the image on the Sunset Strip board is changed every two years. It isn’t the most expensive billboard in Los Angeles there are larger boards on Sunset that cost more but it is probably in the top 10. Chris Massey, spokesman for Outdoor Systems Inc., which owns the board, declined to reveal how much Philip Morris Cos., the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, pays for the sign. Most outdoor media companies have been taking steps to reduce their exposure to cigarette ad bans. Cities around the country have recently been passing ordinances restricting cigarette advertising, and state or federal restrictions have long been expected. Two years ago, about 20 percent of Outdoor Systems’ boards around the country were used for tobacco ads; today it’s closer to 4 percent, Massey said. “It’s unfortunate that L.A. is going to lose a landmark,” Massey said. But we may well be seeing him again or something very much like him. West Hollywood Mayor Steve Martin expects other advertisers to trade on the Marlboro Man’s fame by posting satirical boards once the famous one disappears for example, a board picturing a cowboy with a milk mustache, or a cowboy wearing Polo undershorts. “My suspicion is, we haven’t seen the last of the Marlboro Man yet,” Martin said. “He may not be smoking, but he’ll be back in another incarnation.”

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