This is it: Chance Jordan’s white whale.
He holds a pointed sign in his arms, takes a deep breath and starts spinning. He hucks it into the air in what he calls a “Destructo Disc Skill Saw,” then flips into a handstand to pin the whizzing sign between his legs. Can he catch it?
No, it turns out. He can’t. The sign clatters to the ground in Esther Short Park on a recent Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve been working on this for a year and a half,” Jordan says, grinning sheepishly.
But Jordan, who lives in Vancouver, has dozens of tricks up his sleeve. You may have seen him and his crew out once a week in the downtown Vancouver park, training for the hours spent on street corners and in front of businesses.
Yes, that’s right. These are professional, gravity-defying, trick-performing sign spinners.
Jordan manages the Portland office of AArrow Sign Spinners, a global company that purports to be the “world’s largest guerrilla marketing company.” Company founder Max Durovic started the company in 2002 from his dorm room at Georgetown University, and it’s since expanded to 18 states and 10 countries.
It’s a type of out-of-home marketing, appropriately nicknamed “OOH.” And that’s exactly what it sounds like — any marketing you encounter out in the wild, including billboards or ads on bus shelters.
It’s all about drawing a smile, or an “ooh,” from passersby. Just ask Jeremiah Zueger, who has been sign flipping for nearly five years. He joined Jordan for a recent Thursday practice session.
“I’m addicted to the reaction of other people,” Zueger said. “I like to make people happy.”
AArrow claims impressive numbers about its own referral traffic, but does this type of marketing really work in 2019?
Maybe, says Ron Pimentel, an associate professor of marketing at Washington State University Vancouver. While he wasn’t aware of any empirical studies about sign spinning — shocking, we know — Pimentel shared a CliffsNotes version of his lecture notes from a consumer behavior course.
Sign spinning, he said, is effectively a way for businesses to create “accidental exposure.” In order to stand out in a field of so much advertising that can feel like static noise, businesses may try increasingly eye-grabbing tactics to get their brand noticed.
“My own opinion is that, at this point, it would take some exceptional sign spinning to get attention,” Pimentel said. “If that attention is achieved, awareness of the business is increased.”
And exceptional sign spinning this is. AArrow is on a mission to make sign spinners into athletes, inviting thousands of its own employees to Las Vegas to compete in the World Sign Spinning Championships.
There’s something like 700 official tricks in the fabled AArrow “Tricktionary,” with names like the High Toss, the Wrist Breaker Sword Slash and the Sexy Man. The best spinners piece together a series of tricks, not unlike a gymnast or a figure skater.
Jordan took 17th last year — now he’s hoping to crack the top 10.
Of course, not everyone in the company can be an award-winning sign spinner. But that doesn’t matter, Jordan said.
“It’s really easy to do your job,” Jordan said. “Just get out and have fun.”