“Sign Guy” Marketing

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there’s been a significant proliferation, over the last year or so, of those “Sign Guys” (my term…for convenience only…no pejorative connotation or gender bias intended) you see along the side of the road spinning and waving their signs to get your attention and trying to get you to turn into the mini-mall and buy some product or service from their client. This type of advertising is actually illegal in some places (Arizona for example), because officials are concerned that it may distract drivers and cause them to lose track of a cell phone conversation or mistype a text message.

I know this type of “Human Directional” or “Human Billboard” advertising goes back a long time, but I was relatively oblivious to it until last fall, when, while driving home from work, I happened to notice what I thought was a rather peculiar use of this marketing method. What I saw was one of those “Sign Guys”, doing his thing…spinning, flipping and gyrating a brightly colored sign with an arrow on one end and the name of his client. His objective of course was to attract my attention and that of other passing motorists and prompt us, ideally, to make an impulse buy, or at least to implant a notable memory so that we’d come back later. They advertise for tax preparers, car dealerships, cell phones sellers, gold buyers, real estate brokers, pizza makers and just about anything else you can imagine. This brings me back to what I saw on that day, driving home from work that got my attention and inspired this blog.

The sign this particular Sign Guy was waving around said “DENTIST”. I guess you could say that the Sign Guy was successful in capturing my attention, although not in the way he intended. I did a double-take, but managed to keep my eyes on the road…DENTIST…Really?? My mind raced to comprehend the thinking behind this marketing strategy. Is this really the way you want to brand a highly personal service to a customer? Do I, as a potential customer really want someone who uses this kind of crude advertising method to be messing around in my mouth with their hands and sharp tools? What’s next, Sign Guys advertising “COLONOSCOPY’S”, “CATARACT SURGERY”, or “PROSTATE EXAMS”?

After a few calming moments, the more rational voice in my head reminded me that my business development friends, would counsel me not to make such harsh judgments before considering the advertising thought process that may have taken place. What about 1) target demographics; 2) messaging strategy; and the 3) economic value proposition?

OK, let’s think about that for a moment. 1) What is the target demographic? The only thing I could think of is the impulse buy of someone with a suddenly raging toothache who sees this sign as if it were a life vest thrown to a drowning man. 2) The messaging strategy? Is waving a sign at the street side really any more crude than advertising in the yellow pages, newspapers, and radio or cable TV channels? I guess I have to concede this one to my business development friends. Sign spinning isn’t that much less sophisticated than some relatively crude advertising I’ve seen from Doctors and Lawyers in the print or electronic media. 3) The economic value proposition? I have no personal access to data on this, but an article on Human Billboards cite studies that show that the method costs much less than over advertising media, and brings in a measurable increase in sales to the businesses that use it. However, I have serious doubts about its efficacy for the bottom line of dentistry practices. If someone out there has data to show otherwise I’m open to it. One other thought here is that the Sign Guy for the dentist in question may have been his out of work brother-in-law who just needed a helping hand.

So, harsh or not, I make no apologies for initial “what idiot came up with that idea” response to the dentist who bought into this marketing strategy. I also offer my kudos to the Sign Guy who managed somehow to sell the dentist on the idea and then stayed out there day after day in the heat and wind, doing his Sign Guy thing to earn a living in this tough economy.

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About donmcalister

I retired at the end of 2011, after a 39 year career in the Aerospace industry as an Propulsion Engineer, Engineering Manager and Program Manager. My professional interests and expertise is in the areas of Program, Risk and Knowledge Management. I'm passionate about life-long learning involving a wide variety of topics and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge and ideas with those who are interested. My primary hobby is performing jazz music. I'm a jazz keyboard player, and vocalist, and I'm on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Simi Valley Jazz Club, which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of jazz music from the '20's through the 60's.
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One Response to “Sign Guy” Marketing

  1. Rick Ladd says:

    LOL – “This type of advertising is actually illegal in some places (Arizona for example), because officials are concerned that it may distract drivers and cause them to lose track of a cell phone conversation or mistype a text message.”

    I like this tack, Don. Good, humorous take on an interesting issue. Reminds me of a sign guy I once saw at the corner of Canoga and Vanowen who was spinning his sign so fast it was impossible to read what it said. I was surprised he didn’t have a tip jar at the corner, but I suppose that might have been somewhat disruptive to the flow of traffic 🙂

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