Walking man as advertising star

Walksign_1Between 2000 and 2004, New York City, at a cost of $28 million, replaced all 85,000 street signs that read, “WALK/DON’T WALK,” with ones that use the international symbols for those commands—the white walking man and the imposing red hand. For some, the change was a bit jarring. (“They’re really bright. They hurt my eyes,” one youngster told The New Yorker. Plus, he added, “the old one is just more original.”) But it did give New York creatives a new character to work with—and indeed, the stick-figure everyman seems to appear in more and more ads these days (usually jumping or dancing or doing flips, often to show that his back pain is gone). The changing of the signs may have helped advertisers in another way, too. On a couple of occasions in the 1990s, artists used the “WALK/DON’T WALK” text signs in anti-capitalist art projects. (Anyone remember the “CONSUME/CONFORM” signs outside the Gap in midtown?) Nowadays, though, the guerrilla mischief seems limited to dressing up the walking man in funny clothes and duct-taping the red hand so it looks like it’s giving the finger.

—Posted by Tim Nudd