Those who fear a dystopian future in which robots replace humans may want to turn away. There is a new trend of businesses employing motorized mannequins for promotion, and predictably enough, juveniles have already begun defacing them.
According to the Wall Street Journal, several California businesses are taking notice of the newest trend in storefront marketing: robotic sign-holding mannequins. The lifelike dolls casually oscillate a sign back and forth, and their mass appeal has already stirred a debate as to whether this is a sign of robots replacing humans in the workforce.
A2Z Smoke Shop in Los Angeles recently started to use one of the robots for promotion, and business was booming — until their new model lost an arm. Jeff Davtian, an employee of the smoke shop, says that vandals are making it difficult to keep their new marketing tool appropriate for public consumption.
“Too many people would graffiti it. The chick looked like she was tatted up from head to toe,” said Davtian. “They would undress her, they would jack her wig…One day I came out and she’s missing an arm. That’s when I said, ‘alright, I’m done with this.’”
Joseph Hernandez, manager of Su Servicios, a tax firm located near the smoke shop, says he has already had two of his mannequins stolen. “It’s probably kids — always during Easter break,” said Hernandez.
To thwart vandals, Hernandez now pays a man $600 a week to do the same job as the robots. “No one’s going to steal him, but he does cost more,” he said.
Retail signage plays a major role in driving traffic into businesses, and research shows that 35% of people passing by wouldn’t know a business was even there without a sign. The robotic mannequins fall into the same marketing category as “inflatable tube men,” which have been used by car dealerships for years to lure customers driving by the building.
Many are already fearful of robots stealing the jobs of humans, and these new robotic sign-holders aren’t helping them to sleep better at night. According to CNBC, an industry expert projected in 2011 that there would be 1.2 million industrial robots working worldwide by 2013.
Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, noted that nine specific jobs were in danger of being taken over by robots, including pharmacist and babysitter. While his prediction doesn’t seem to have come to fruition just yet, the new sign-holding mannequins are a good indicator of new trends in promotional techniques and employment.
Despite the growing popularity of the robots, proponents of the human-billboard industry seem confident that it isn’t disappearing anytime soon. Dennis Keizer, owner of Best Direction LLC in California, had some frank thoughts about the mannequins.
“No one ever stole one of my sign spinners, and I don’t have to plug them in. I’m not going to lose my business to a bunch of mannequins,” said Keizer.