In his L.A. Times column today, Steve Lopez rails against Mercury Insurance and billboard giant CBS Outdoor. The two companies have been in the news lately because the insurance company pressured CBS into taking down an anti-Mercury ad paid for by Consumer Watchdog. On August 24, the billboard, emblazoned with the words, “You Can't Trust Mercury Insurance,” was placed not far from Mercury's corporate headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfield told Lopez that CBS had approved the message content, as it does with all proposed billboards. After two weeks, though, Mercury's lawyers picked up the phone and CBS caved, even though Rosenfield's group had paid for the message to remain up until September 20.

What got Lopez's goat is the nearby presence of an Absolut Mango supergraphic that depicts the vodka company's mango logo as, essentially, a 10-story vagina — something that might have been designed by Judy Chicago. That billboard, of course, is still standing and when Lopez, who is a Mercury client, called both his insurer and CBS for an explanation, was met with cold silence. That shouldn't surprise many in this town, where CBS Outdoor functions as its own censor and Mercury is California's third-biggest auto insurance company.

Car Washers' Billboard; Credit:

Car Washers' Billboard; Credit:

Last month, a group of low-wage car washers

who are trying to unionize, paid for a CBS billboard to be placed over

the Vermont Hand Wash establishment in Los Feliz. It was taken down

almost immediately, a few hours before a “washeros” rally was scheduled

to be held nearby. CBS had, under the car wash owner's insistence,

removed the sign. CBS did not return calls from the L.A. Weekly about the incident.


is not only irked by the lack of billboard justice, but by the fact

that Mercury is also behind recent attempts to weaken consumer


“What's the company's explanation for backing legislation that would

undermine key consumer protections?” Lopez asks. “And just why does it dish out so

much in campaign contributions? Couldn't the company lower my rates



told Lopez that the incident has made him consider running for state

insurance commissioner. If you thought big business pulled out all the

stops to defeat lefty Upton

Sinclair when he ran for governor during the Great Depression, wait to

see if Rosenfield decides to run for commissioner.  If he does, there

will be plenty of billboards going up throughout the state, bought by

Mercury and other insurance companies — and we bet CBS Outdoor won't

take down any of those.

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