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Burning Up

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Folklore back East and an infinite number of stupid jokes notwithstanding, most Los Angeles denizens do not spend each day sprawled out on a beach towel, playing footsie with seaweed.

Sure, we'll make the obligatory warm-weather pilgrimage to the boardwalk in Venice. And we must, unfortunately, cop to being the capital of semicivilized surfing culture. But most people are too busy working to be bronzing on Santa Monica Bay. The only Angelenos who sit by the beach all the time are the ones who live on it: the desperate poor in crumbling, firetrap shacks and the insufferable rich in opulent, overpriced shacks.

I, however, am frequently surfside. Not because I particularly want to be—I don't fancy being a shrimp on nature's barbie—but because it's part of my beat. The beach is the world's largest outdoor ad medium. And now that the television season is over, beach marketing season really gets—pardon the expression—hot.

Too hot.

Small planes drag big banners. Logo-filled sails glide back and forth. There are messages on garbage cans, messages in the bathrooms, inflated spokes characters everywhere.

Promotions blare. "Events" abound. A carnival of business colors, slogans and entreaties sends out a cacophony of corporate hawking all along the coastline from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

An Internet search reveals 23 pages of links to "beach advertising." Granted, a lot of them are related to city names (as in "Newport Beach advertising"), but there are a hefty number of aerial ad firms, specialty shops and quirky desti nations such as BeachNBillboard.com, which offers environmentally safe corporate messages written in the sand. (How does one measure that? Cost per grain?)

One site offers jobs for college kids to stroll along the shore in Italy, handing out flyers. And there is something on a German-language site called "der beach advertising system," which promises "die inno vative kommunikationsidee."

There's just too much of it. Beach clutter is destroying—or maybe already has destroyed—whatever kommunikationsidee benefits there are to all this sand sloganeering.

I can remember TV commercials from last month better than the marketing messages from yesterday's trip to the beach. And that's a really bad—pardon the expression—sign.

Besides, this is hardly a captive audience. There are so many distractions on the beach (you know who you are) that hardly anybody is paying attention to anything else.

Beach marketing has been with us for a long time. One of the links I found led me to a memoir from the '50s about drifting around in a boat with a corporate logo on the sail. Like the tide, however, the medium's usefulness may have run out.

Except maybe to market television. The casts of returning shows could boost ratings with impromptu performances for beachgoers. And the actors of canceled shows could plead their case, going towel to towel, begging to be brought back.

Why not? That's where all the viewers are at this time of year, anyway. Even in Los Angeles.