Ah tattoos… For some, they’re a little luxury. For others they ostensibly rhyme with taboo. But either way, they have become clever advertising machines. Every day on the walk home past St. Marks, I walk by at least a dozen tattoo shops. And as I marvel at all the ink branding, I have to wonder: did media perpetuate tattoo popularity, perhaps even use tattoos as another selling platform that connects people with the abstract, the aspirational?
For years tattoos have defined something seemingly undefinable– a lifestyle. It’s no secret that tattoos have gained in mass market appeal (in 1936, Life stated 6% of Americans tattooed; in 2000 National Geographic stated 15% of Americans tattooed; in 2006, American Academy of Dermatology stated up to 24% between 18-50 tattooed). In my opinion, this happened due mostly to traditional mass media, where images of this trend have been disseminated into the American mainstream as permanently as tattoos themselves. And since tattoos make such a strong marketing statement, marketers have catapulted even more creative ways to advertise.
How have marketers used tattoos to their advantage? First, there’s putting tattoos directly into ad images and thereby making the brand sexy or underground or artsy or shocking or whatever other fitting tattoo connotation there may be. Tattoos have played a starring role in ads ranging from apparel (Levi’s, Converse) to products you wouldn’t normally think have any relation to tattoos (Post-It).
Second, there’s drilling the tattoo through every available channel. Don Ed Hardy, former tattoo artist, established a huge brand straight out of his art/craft. Over the years, he’s used his label to produce an apparel line including clothes, belts, bags, shoes, and accessories, as well as fragrances, hair tools, sunglasses, car accessories, diaper bags, onesies, shower curtains, wine glasses, and vodka. So basically everything under the sun. And probably much more than you or I can imagine.
Third, there is actually tattooing people into campaigns. Take the recent World Cup. To break a world record, Brazilian club Vasco da Gama offered free jerseys to anyone who got the team’s Templar cross logo tattooed. This wasn’t the first time free goods were offered in exchange for branding oneself as a fan of a product. Restaurants have offered free lunches for life, and Goodyear has offered tires, among others. And let’s not forget temporary tattoos, such as seen with Chanel. There are even sites, like TatAD, that connect advertisers with consumers who are willing to get a brand tattooed. With any Google search, there are at least a dozen people who are willing to auction off their foreheads or other parts of their body for the “right price” (this usually ranges from $10,000 to $40,000, and athletes have been known to do it too).
And finally, there is self-branding with tattoos. Though it’s cliché, her branding works wonders: Angelina Jolie’s tattoos are the most frequently searched out of all celebrities, and they’ve clearly established her brand identity (as evidenced when tattooed Megan Fox was touted as the next Angelina). And for movies, such as Wanted, Jolie’s had even more tattoos put on her body, to the point where I wonder if her tattoos have contributed to her typecasting (I also think of recently released SALT). There is also cult following devoted to replicating her tattoos.
And it’s never easy to forget when other celebrities promote their significant others with body art (of course what immediately jumps to mind is Johnny Depp’s tattoo that now reads “Wino Forever”). Might Levi Johnston’s Bristol tattoo on his ring finger be a buy-in to the Palin brand? In some even scarier cases of extremism, fans get their favorite celebrity permanently inked on (think of the fan who got Robert Pattinson’s signature tattooed on her wrist).
Tattoos have come a long way since they were reserved for the rebellious and the regretful. Even in the world of television, Kat Von D’s show LA Ink has put tattoos in the forefront in reality TV. Since they’ve been put through our minds with the impactful big screen, weighty print ads, and on the bodies of people we admire, it’s clear they are the ultimate marketing tool. When you brand with a tattoo–no matter what you brand–you brand forever. Tattoos can be small yet carry the power of billboards. And what great indicators that traditional media offerings are still influential and necessary in our rapidly developing, quickly changing ad world.
If anyone out there reading this wants to get a Luminosity Marketing tattoo in bright orange, I won’t be able to offer you free lunches for life, but I can provide a pat on the back and a raise in coolness factor.Share