Tattoo culture, once the playground of bikers, miscreants and other ne’er-do-wells, has blossomed into a mainstream phenomenon with soccer moms now just as likely to stroll through an ink shop’s doors as a thick-skinned iron worker.
The content of tattoos seems also to have evolved. Where once people proudly displayed skulls, scantily clad women riding bareback astride fire-breathing dragons and other fearsome/disturbing images, people now sport images that conjure childhood memories (favorite toys), hobbies (knitting needles) and even preferred brands and products.
Whatever your personal thoughts about the permanent body art trend, the intersection of tattoo culture and advertising — “tatvertising” (yes, they really call it that) — poses some interesting issues for consumer-oriented companies from a marketing perspective.
Recently, a tanning salon presented a young lady (and former reality TV “star”) with free tanning for life in exchange for having the company’s logo tattooed on her leg. It’s hard to say exactly what the ROI will be for the tanning company in terms of real-life viewers reached with that logo placement, but that’s not really the point, is it?
The news story of the branded leg reached far and wide, landing on a number of news sites’ front pages, generating thousands of comments and garnering the company more sets of eyes, water cooler conversations and overall publicity than the company could ever buy. All of that came just from letting one person use a single tanning bed for free. That ROI’s not looking too bad after all!
Other examples abound. A real estate company offered its own employees a 15-percent salary increase for getting the company’s logo tattooed on their body (the employer also paid for the tattoos). On the other end of the branding iron, there are people who actively seek out companies willing to exchange cold, hard cash for body space on a temporary basis — usually somewhere on their face. (As an aside, we would strongly recommend that psychiatric counseling professionals take these people up on their offers, preferably on a quid pro quo basis).
But, here’s the rub – getting a tattoo is not (or at least shouldn’t be) a decision that someone makes lightly. Just ask anyone with a tattoo they regret — the guy who got Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign logo tattooed on his face, for example.
Just as importantly, a tattoo is supposed to mean something and have a personal relevance to the bearer. Whether a tanning salon meets that criteria for the young lady is up for debate – maybe the litmus test is whether she would have gotten the tattoo without the offer.
And that’s where things get interesting. At EPIC Creative®, we’ve seen multiple examples of individuals getting tattoos of our clients’ brand imagery. This isn’t tatvertising. These are people for whom a brand has a strong meaning. These individuals go out on their own and, with no ulterior motives beyond simple brand loyalty, get a permanent expression of their devotion to a particular company and its products. There’s no offer or exchange of products or services to taint the significance or meaning in the act. And although we’re more than happy to showcase that level of fan devotion on a client’s Facebook page or through other social media outlets, these acts will not and were not designed to garner the type of publicity that tatvertising peddles.
Now, there’s no denying the ROI value to a company if their tatvertising efforts pay off in the form of national media coverage. That kind of coverage is far from guaranteed, however, and ROI isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered when evaluating whether to engage in a gimmicky campaign like tatvertising. At EPIC, we help our clients successfully steer clear of the potholes at the sometimes poorly lit intersection of marketing and ethics.