If you’ve driven through any major intersection in Las Vegas (or even along the outlying roads) you’ve likely encountered one of them. They’re pumped up, rhythmic, sweating and holding (or spinning, or jumping over) some kind of sign while trying to make eye contact. In the industry they’re known as “human directionals,” and they take many forms—ranging from a man in an Astro Boy costume with a “COLONICS!” sign at Green Valley Parkway and Interstate 215 to Pelvis Cleansly, the colonics-crooner dressed like Elvis who works for A Gentle Cleanse on Wigwam Parkway and Pecos Road.
While we’re a bit, uh, murky on why human directionals point toward colonics so frequently, we do know this: Sign spinners are about more than clean colons. They’re used by all kinds of businesses. And in Las Vegas, they’re perennial.
They’re not just Craigslist finds, either. A variety of companies offer the services of human directionals, a.k.a. sign twirlers or sign wavers. EyeShot, for example, lays claim to being the “original human directional company,” having been in the directional business for more than 26 years. EyeShot works with local businesses to pair them with its attention-getting sign spinners.
The four or five times a year Cricket Communications uses human directionals from EyeShot, the business has a noticeable increase in traffic, says Traci Holman, office manager for Cricket in Las Vegas. “It drives business,” she says. “Some of them are quite hilarious. Some of them are really talented.”
Those talented ones put a lot of effort into looking effortless. Sign spinners who work for AArrow Advertising, which is based in San Diego but operates in Las Vegas and 26 other cities, puts its spinners through a boot camp. By the time they’ve hit the street corners they’ve learned up to 500 tricks out of AArrow’s “tricktionary,” with names such as the Bruce Lee, the Helicopter and Jump Rope.
But it’s not just about the tricks, according to Joe Ambert, director of business operations for AArrow. A large amount of training is devoted to the presentation of the sign—how to freeze it and give each of the thousands of passing cars time to read it. That personal touch, he says, is key.
“Traditional forms of advertising are becoming obsolete almost—radio, TV, print,” Ambert says. “Nowadays you have to have something new, you have to stay on top of it. Having street-level advertising that’s targeting the people one by one, or hitting each single target it really causes them to remember the message.”
For five years, sign spinner and AArrow director of training Johnny AArrow (who legally had his name changed because, he says, he loves being a sign spinner) has worked to share many messages. But to hear him talk, he’s received at least as much as he’s given.
“On a good day it gets to the level you would see at a concert when someone’s performing onstage,” he says. “There’s 10, 20 people leaning out of their cars screaming, ‘Yeah! That’s awesome!’ And we get tips and, I don’t know how appropriate this is, but I’ve definitely had a couple of people flash me on the corner. It’s full-scale performance. I put everything I have into it and I think people recognize that.”