Advertising, With a Twist

‘Sign spinners’ may be annoying, but just the fact that you noticed them is the reason they exist.

Sign spinner Zach Taylor has all the right moves on Maitland Boulevard as he tries to get motorists’ attention.

Photo by Tina Russell

Sign spinners. You’ve seen them on street corners and along roads, twirling their arrow-shaped placards. They’re trying to boost drive-in traffic for everything from apartment complexes to furniture liquidations and they’re so annoying you can’t help but notice. And that’s the point.

Dancing banana, Statue of Liberty or, heaven forbid, a creepy clown, are so 10 minutes ago. Sign spinners, a form of capitalist street theater, are the state of the art—active, distracting and provocative, the way low-budget guerrilla marketing was meant to be. Businesses are fighting for attention in an advertising market oversaturated by print, TV, radio, billboards and the Internet; put a guy near a busy intersection with a pointer sign and tell him to twirl it and move around like he’s shoeless on hot asphalt. Now that’ll get people’s attention.

AArrow Advertising, a California company, is widely credited with pioneering sign-spinning as performance art sometime around 2002. (Leave it to the state that gave us Twitter and the Kardashians to come up with something weird enough to distract us from our drive-time focus of texting and putting on makeup).

AArrow, which also has an Orlando branch, boasts a trademarked playbook with more than 100 tricks, and its spinners are drilled weekly. They’re mostly teens, these spinners, getting a base pay of $7 per hour but making $10 to $15 per hour, depending on their repertoire of spin tricks and how much walk-in traffic they generate. It’s not unusual for them to engage in “spinoffs’’ when two or more find themselves on opposing corners. Zach Teal, who spins for Orlando-based Gotcha Directionals, likes to challenge rivals to a game of S-I-G-N (think of the driveway basketball game H-O-R-S-E).

Their spin shifts are called “showings” with good reason: Teal regularly works lines of cars with the “blender-blender’’ and  “helicopter’’ spins, building up to his “Matrix’’ move, in which he bends over backward while tossing the sign like a pizza.

“I’ve had people pull over and watch me for 10 minutes,”    Teal, 17, says. And, just like in the theater, fans have been known to show their appreciation, albeit not with flowers. “One guy gave me a sandwich.”

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