Note: This column appears in the 6/12 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 6/13 issue of the Peoria Times
There is a phenomenon sweeping this part of the country. I am not sure how long it’s been here, but I am certain that I noticed it the second I moved to Arizona. It is a revolutionary tactic in advertising, and it combines a lack of technology, minimum wage, and an utter disregard for human life and dignity. What is this phenomenon, you ask, as if you don’t already know?
People standing outside holding signs.
Seriously. Local businesses are paying people to stand a few feet away from oncoming traffic and hold up a sign advertising a store inside of a strip mall nearby. The reason for this, of course, is that every business -- as mandated by Arizona law -- must be contained within a strip mall, so that the only way you can find that business is to randomly drive into strip malls and look at all the stores without running over anyone in the parking lot. Or, in this case, you can be cordially invited to shop at a local establishment by someone standing outside in the 115-degree heat who looks like they have lost the will to live.
I had noticed this trend dating back to last summer, but it seems like I’m seeing it more and more as local businesses struggle in the current economic climate. Last week I was driving on Lake Pleasant Parkway in Peoria, and I stopped at the light next to the new Wal-Mart store. Keep in my mind that this Wal-Mart is the only store within a 10-million square mile radius of that area. Also keep in mind that this is Wal-Mart -- not a local bagel shop -- and you would have to be a blind person to miss it. Nevertheless, there was a woman on the corner of the road holding a “Wal-Mart” sign with an arrow directing traffic into the parking lot. Except that it was five o’clock in the afternoon, and it was approximately 8,000 degrees outside, and the woman was using the sign to shade herself from the blaring sun, so the sign was actually directing people to drive to the Wal-Mart in the sky.
A few weeks before that, I was getting onto the 101 on Union Hills Dr in Glendale on my way to work. And what did I see on the side of the road at 7:00 in the morning? A girl dressed like Wendy -- yes, of Wendy’s fame -- holding a sign while sporting a half-smile that screamed, “Help me!” This was pretty embarrassing for everyone involved. I felt so bad for her that I almost went to Wendy’s. But I didn’t.
From an advertising standpoint, this is really thinking outside the proverbial box, isn’t it? If business is struggling, pay someone to stand outside and hold a sign, and wait for the money to start rolling in. (That’s how Microsoft was created, true story.) Thing is, seeing a person on the corner holding a sign does grab my attention…but in a very negative way. Instead of saying, “Oh, that’s where ‘Barry’s Bait & Tackle Supply’ is! I think I shall go in and purchase something,” I say, “Poor dude. Look at what they’ve done to him. I will never shop at ‘Barry’s Bait & Tackle Supply again!”
Sure, recent technology has proven there are signs that hold themselves. But you just never know what to expect when you remove the human element. (Except, of course, one less person on staff, a decreased chance of someone dying in the heat, and, considering the alternative would be more creative means of advertising, more business.)
Luckily, it seems that these human sign-holders may be gaining more and more rights within the sign-holding industry. In fact, two days ago I was waiting at a red light and I noticed a high school-aged kid sitting in a lounge chair on the corner. He was under an umbrella and was wearing sunglasses. I couldn’t see what his sign was for, as the prop he was using to hold it up had fallen over, and thus, so had the sign itself. Also, he may have been sleeping.
And that, my friends, is what we call advertising.