Sign twirlers, also known as "human directionals," are everywhere as I drive down a busy boulevard in my hometown of San Diego. Some twirlers are dressed in bright colors, some are actively twirling their signs–while others look like they could care less. Is sign twirling an effective form of advertising?



Sign twirlers seem to be ubiquitous in Southern California and demand for twirlers is high. According to an NPR radio story, a company called Eventz Extraordinaire, has an army of 650 twirlers available to help advertise local businesses and events. And Wikipedia's entry on the topic says,

"Demand for human directionals has significantly increased over the last few years.

In temperate and warm locations, sign holders can be employed year-round and their effectiveness has been amply demonstrated. For example, during the month of October 2006, nearly 8 percent of the 3,600 people who visited model homes in a housing development in Moreno Valley, California were directed there by human directionals."


Paying sign twirlers $10 an hour might be less costly than taking out an advertisement in the local paper, or blanketing the radio with prime time driving spots. But are sign twirlers effective in driving sales?

Granted, this is a small sample size, but on my afternoon drive I observed:

* One guy, touting a housing development, has his sign pointed the wrong way.
* The person holding a "Domino's Pizza" sign is slumped over and either asleep or dead. (Someone check his/her pulse!)
* A woman is twirling a sign for an apartment complex more than half a mile away from where she's stationed.
* One person, actively twirling his sign, is advertising a "furniture blow out" for a business in the next city!
* Another twirler, dressed in a Statue of Liberty outfit, motions a sign towards "Liberty Tax Services" in a nearby strip mall.

Some sign twirlers consider their advertising an art form. A recent LA Times article notes,
"Local spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There's the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner
puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups."

The amusement factor aside, just because there seems to be a proliferation of sign twirlers, doesn't mean it's an effective form of advertising. The above LA Times article states,
"The outdoor advertising industry still does not recognize sign spinning as a bona fide way of reaching consumers, much less an art form. It regards spinning as a form of guerrilla marketing that commercializes public space."


And some cities, annoyed with the whole prospective of human advertising are outright banning the practice as dangerous to drivers who should be paying attention to the road!

I think sign twirling can be effective form of advertising when:

* The sign twirler is active, and animated. This of course, needs to be balanced with public safety–too much animation can cause car wrecks!
* There is a limited time promotion, grand opening etc. (Strong call to action)
* Brand and offer are tied together–as in the Liberty Tax example above or a costumed Spiderman pointing to a comics shop.

Is sign twirling just the latest fad in "impulse advertising"? Or does it really work?

Does anyone have a client or own a business where sign twirling has driven substantial sales or pushed month end revenues significantly? I'd love to hear some success stories–

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.