After years free of ads, LAX to step into present

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[Los Angeles] It only took me minutes to realize why LAX was such a different kind of place within Airworld. It's the busiest origin and destination airport (i.e. non-hub) in the world. It's the home airport for the second-largest media market in the country and the hub of the entertainment industry. But there isn't a scrap of advertising anywhere. Its concourses are literally blank slates.

LAX has held out for decades against what its executive management once decried as crass commercialism-back in the 1970s, there was even a board resolution expressly forbidding any advertising. But all of that is about to change. LAX is only a few weeks away from awarding a contract worth $30 million a year or more over the next decade to either Clear Channel or JCDecaux, the airport "outdoor" giants now engaged in a full-tilt struggle to win the last unclaimed piece of airport real estate. The winner will receive a five-year contract, with a five-year option to renew.

Last week, JCDecaux officially announced it had renewed its contracts in New York with JFK and LaGuardia, and had wrested away Newark Liberty from Clear Channel, creating the second-largest regional airport advertising platform in the world with 100 million annual passengers. (The largest is comprised of the London airports, which is also controlled by JCDecaux.)

The New York win was a huge one for JCDecaux, which currently trails behind Clear Channel in the U.S. If JCDecaux wins LAX (along with the regional Ontario airport), it will effectively control the air corridor that is the cultural spine of blue state America. If Clear Channel wins, it can slam the door on another market in the U.S.

LAX concessions manager Karen Tozer and her deputy, Mark Miodovsky, filled me in on the last laps of the two-year race for the airport contract. The process began with a request for proposals and eventually yielded 400 potential locations around the airport for static signage, banners, touch-screen kiosks, plasma screens and sponsorships.

No vulgarity

But the winner won't be the one who slams the most advertisers into the most slots, but rather the one that devises the most elegant, non-vulgar commercial messaging tactics that make maximum use of new technologies. "We wanted to really embrace technology," Ms. Tozer said. Mr. Miodovsky gave me a quick tour of Terminal 2-served by Northwest, Air France, KLM, and others. He pointed to the ancient hotel and rental car information kiosks that consisted of little other than postcards and converted rotary phones. Upstairs, he pointed at blank walls where banners might be hung, and to a planter containing drooping, sickly palms that "could become display areas that generate revenue," he said.

With best and final offers due later this month, those planters could well sprout plasma screens by the time Angelenos fly home after Christmas.

Follow Editor-at-Large Greg Lindsay’s daily reports from the marketing ecosystyem called Airworld at AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq92k

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