“Alright everybody, really look alive out there. This could be a launching pad for you. People who hold signs go on to hold many things.”
—Scene from Flight of the Conchords, in which Brett gets a job as a Human Directional, and his boss gives the most absurd pep talk ever.
Every time I’m driving down the street and see some poor fellow holding up a sign promoting a nearby store, I think: Can’t the store just give that guy a real job, instead of humiliating him in public like that? Or at least don’t make him dance around in one of those ridiculous costumes! (I say “him” because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female submit to this.)
In the olden days, they used to wear “sandwich boards”—one sign on your chest and one sign on your back, hung across your shoulders. Charles Dickens referred to this degradation as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board.”
Today’s signs come in a variety of colors and shapes, and are often accompanied by choreography that may or may not include twirling. In trade jargon, they’re called “Human Directionals,” and companies exist that actually specialize in it. According to one of them, Media Nation, “When a real, living and breathing human being holds an arrow directing potential clients to a site, results ensue.” Another firm, Alluring Advertising, promises that “all of our spinners are certified professional and respectful.” Exactly how one receives certification for this profession is not mentioned; I suppose “respectful” implies that they don’t just hire people off the street—like when Cosmo Kramer strapped homeless people to rickshaws.
AArrow Advertising reportedly makes its Human Directional employees go through some sort of “boot camp” to teach them how to hold and spin signs—and, perhaps more importantly, to build the endurance required for standing curbside all day while trying to distract drivers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the competition in this industry “has turned cutthroat.” AArrow has gone so far as to have its “signature moves” patented. As the firm explains, “We have to take our intellectual property pretty seriously.”