During my search for material for my “Billboards” post, I came across another type of billboard called the human billboard. Here is a great infographic about human billboards by Greg Williams:
Early Human Billboards
As the infographic states, human billboards made their debut in 19th century London. Here is a look at some vintage human billboards. This illustration, which was published in 1828, is from George Scharf’s London, Sketches and Watercolours of a Changing City, 1820-1850 by Peter Jackson.
In addition to wearing signs, some people went one step further and dressed up in costumes. These human billboards were walking around in Germany in 1932. Perhaps the mascots of today evolved from these more elaborate human billboards.
Modern Human Billboards
Most people have probably seen human directionals on the street. As Williams notes in his infographic, they spin signs and employ other movements to get people’s attention.
This is an unusual variation on the typical signs carried by human directionals. I wonder how this person’s back feels at the end of the day.
In Melbourne, Australia, you can actually hire people from this company to walk around with ads for your business strapped to their backs. They also offer to advertise your business using mobile billboards transported by penny farthing bicycles and eventually by German scooters from the 1950s (the scooters are not available yet).
Yes, there are people out there who have sold ad space on their skin. The tattoo advertising described in the infographic is called skinvertising. The man depicted in the infographic, Jim Nelson, appears in a gallery of photos of people who have commercial ads tattooed on them. The gallery is aptly called “Branded for Life,” and it appears in a Huffington Post article called “Tattoo Ad Craze Created Human Billboards for Now Defunct Companies”. I wonder what these people will do now that their ads are obsolete.
Since I can’t show the photos in the gallery due to copyright restrictions, I will show you another example of skinvertising. This man sold ad space on his body for an event called the 5/10K Underwear Affair. He also won a costume contest at the same time.