2009-10-15 / Local & State

‘Spinjas’ Offer New Twist On Roadside Advertising


LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Bumping to a techno beat on his Apple iPod music player, Ray Rivera spins a 6-foot arrow-shaped sign on his head as he stands alongside a major road not far from a highway overpass.

Then he spins the sign on his back.

Then on one finger. While lying on his side.

You like that?

Watch this.

Now he’s doing a one-handed flip, all the while twirling the sign, which is emblazoned with the name of a nearby Lancaster car dealership, about 60 miles west of Philadelphia.

A stream of people in passing SUVs and sedans reacts in gape-mouthed amazement, laughing, honking their horns and yelling out their windows at Rivera.

Rivera, a 19-year-old from Baltimore, is a “spinja,’’ a straight-up master of an unusual new advertising technique called sign spinning, which has its roots in break dancing, urban street culture and martial arts.

Fueled by a Danish pastry and a jug of water, Rivera ultimately worked a seven-hour shift on a warm Saturday morning.

“People who haven’t seen this before, we attract attention,’’ said Rivera, who is the manager of the Baltimore office of Aarrow Advertising.

Started by a pair of 20-somethings in 2002 and headquartered in San Diego, Aarrow is a sign-spinning company that employs mostly young, mostly male spinners working out of franchises across the country for clients that include Bud Light, Ben & Jerry’s, Snoop Dogg, H&R Block, Dunkin’ Donuts, Saturn car dealers and the San Diego Chargers.

The company’s two founders, San Diego natives Max Durovic and Mike Kenny, made BusinessWeek’s Best Young Entrepreneurs list in 2007.

The good-looking, charismatic Rivera loves his work.

“This is by far the best job I’ve ever had,’’ he said. “I’m here to make you smile.’’

Lorrie Miller, 59, of Lancaster, grinned broadly as she pulled her car into a nearby parking lot. On her way to wash her car, she was so amazed by Rivera that she stopped to compliment him.

“I hope they pay you well,’’ Miller said. Rivera makes $16 an hour for his acrobatic work.

“Look at that,’’ she said, watching Rivera. “I can’t even carry a cup and saucer down the stairs without spilling it. He’s just the whole package.’’

Rivera was in constant motion, improvising and having fun. In addition to his eye-popping twirling, he jump-roped over the sign, played air guitar on it and rode it like a horse.

A group of motorcyclists roared past, and Rivera immediately straddled his sign, his arms on imaginary handles, revving his imaginary cycle.

“I try to get into people’s heads,’’ he said. “What would really make them smile? What would really make them laugh? How can I get that whole car going, ‘Look at that guy!’?’’

Rivera got into sign spinning when he met some spinners from Aarrow at a party.

His first job didn’t go so well, he said. He was spinning for a home builder out in the countryside of Virginia, “in the middle of absolute nowhere.’’

“Within the first hour, I got a cigarette flicked at me. The second hour, somebody yelled, ‘Get a job!’ The third hour, somebody mooned me. The fourth hour, I got called names. The fifth hour, I just cried,’’ he said.

He persevered and things quickly improved. In the past two years, he has honed his skills and spun all over the East Coast, including stints at President Barack Obama’s inauguration and on the streets of New York, to promote a movie called “Dance Flick.’’

He has his own YouTube videos and has competed in spinning contests sponsored by Aarrow.

He now knows between 150 and 175 Aarrow spinning tricks, which are catalogued in a company “tricktionary’’ and carry their own colorful names, such as “Angry Nerd Flip’’ and “Thundersmash.’’

Rivera said there is a science to the singular form of advertising, which is all about making a human connection. Aarrow claims an 80 percent “hit rate,’’ which means 80 percent of those who pass by a sign spinner see him.

The sign spinning is successful in drawing attention to businesses, said John Anastos, general sales manager for the Saturn car dealership Rivera was advertising.

“People who see it get excited,’’ he said. “They love watching it because it’s so entertaining. It creates a good atmosphere.’’

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