As Tattoos go mainstream, companies look to cash in
For three years, Goodyear's Dunlop tire unit has offered a set of free tires to anyone who will get the flying-D logo tattoo. Above, Justin McRoy gave Fernando Diaz his second Dunlop tattoo. (Dunlop Tires / Via Associated Press)
NEW YORK - What does Angelina Jolie have in common with Joseph Stalin and Thomas Edison as well as two out of every five Americans ages 26 to 40?
Once seen as a silent cry of rebellion, tattoos now posess a status so firmly mainstream that advertisers are using them to market everything from tires and shoes to wine and energy drinks. That has its downside, though. The more acceptable tattoos become, the more they lose their edginess - and their value as advertising.
"There is always an element of rebellion or rite of passage with these things," said David Crockett, assistant professor of marketing at the University of South Carolina. "What makes them interesting is how the marketplace appropriates that rebelliousness and serves that back to you in the form of an energy drink."
The 7-Eleven convenience store chain recently started selling an energy drink called Inked for people who either have tattoos or those who think of themselves as the tattoo type. The company plans to market the drink at motorcycle rallies and tattoo conventions.
"We wanted to create a drink that appealed to men and women, and the tattoo culture has really become popular with both genders," said 7-Eleven's manager of noncarbonated beverages, Michele Little. "The rite of tattoo passage isn't only limited to the young, but also to those who think and act young," she said.
As the attention of young consumers gets spread between TV, blogs, online video, and other distractions, marketers have resorted to alternative methods to get their interest.
Marketers use tattoos both as a cultural icon and as the method to deliver the message, said Kevin Lane Keller, a marketing professor at the Tuck business school at Dartmouth College.
"It's an attempt to do something different in a fresh way," he said.
On a never-ending quest to appeal to the young and young-minded, companies from tire manufacturers to wine sellers are using tattoos in advertising and promotion. Managers of the popular Yellow Tail wine brand sent 600,000 temporary tattoos with an October issue of the New Yorker magazine and wine importer Billington Wines is taking the name Big Tattoo Wines for its $10 a bottle brand.
For three years, Goodyear's Dunlop tire unit has offered a set of free tires to anyone who will get the company's flying-D logo tattooed somewhere on their body, and 98 people have taken up the offer. Some of them are brand loyalists who already own Dunlop tires, while others were tattoo fans who wanted to add to their body art, Dunlop brand marketing manager Janice Consolacion said. One returned for his third Dunlop tattoo this year.
For those friendly to the idea of being a walking billboard, the website Leaseyourbody.com connects advertisers with people who want to be paid for sporting tattoo advertisements.