A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 24, 2022

Why Do People Get Brand Tattoos?

Almost all do so because of a positive association with the brand that also signals something about their values. We are not qualified to report what a back tattoo of a Rolex watch or a VW tattoo signifies. 

While the vast majority get these tattoos because they want to, there is a small but growing trend to sell 'skinvertising.' JL 

Robert Klara reports in Advertising Week, image Time + Tide:  

The most tattooed brands in the world (are) Disney and Nintendo. In third place, Harley-Davidson, 4th and 5th are Lego and Nike. Rounding out the top 10 are: Vans, Dior, Playstation, Volkswagen and Armani. The deeper reasons are social and psychological. Tattoos identify the wearer as belonging to a larger group of fans. “Brand tattoos remind customers of personal values. The tattoo is a permanent badge with special meaning. It creates a powerful recall cue of the memories, experiences, emotions and other positive associations they have with the brand.”

Should you ever want to talk with an expert on brand logos, it’s hard to do better than Jason George.

A 30-year-old resident of Mumbai, George is not a CMO or even a marketer. He’s not even a consultant. Often called “the Human Billboard,” George is a tattoo artist who has covered most of the available space on his body with tattoos of brands.

“There are brands all around us, and they’ve always fascinated me,” George told the Indian news site Afaqs in 2019. “It’s hard to live without them.”

No kidding. Red Bull, Target, Unilever, IBM, Microsoft, Pringles—all are logos on his legs. His back, meanwhile, bears the corporate tags of BMW, Yamaha and Fila.

At last count, George had over 400 brand logo tattoos on his body. The number has surely risen since.

George chooses his tattoos simply because he likes them—there’s no strategy involved. But since George is hardly alone in the practice of getting inked with the names of his favorite brands, a natural question arises: Which brands are most-often favored by the body art crowd?

Well, wonder no longer.

Crunching some social-media data—specifically, counting Instagram hashtags—coupon website Deal A has identified what it says are the most-tattooed brands in the world. It’s not a definitive list, since only the top 50 brands comprised the scope of the research. Even so, it’s a glimpse into the realm of truly-dedicated brand fans.

Branded ink

Leading the pack (with 474,458 and 43,548 hashtags, respectively) are Disney and Nintendo—no shock there, given the sheer number of characters that each franchise has in its stable. (Meaning: both Donald Duck and Ariel count as a Disney tattoo.)

Holding down third place, with 11,804 hashtags, is Harley Davidson. That’s also not a surprise either. Long before tattoos went mainstream, this form of body art served as countercultural talismans for people who prided themselves on living in society’s margins. During the 1950s and 60s, those men included carnies, sailors—and bikers.

It’s the no. 4 and 5 finishers that signify how the nature of tattooing has changed so much since that time: Lego (11,764 hashtags) and Nike, with 7,333. Legos came to the United States in 1962 and the first Nike sneaker bearing the swoosh logo appeared on store shelves in 1972, so neither brand is new to the consumer culture. But plastic bricks and running shoes do seem a strange fit in tattoo pantheon, historically populated by snakes and skulls and that kind of thing.

Rounding out the top 10 are, in order: Vans (with its equally well known “Off the Wall” slogan), Dior, Playstation, Volkswagen and Armani.

A Pikachu on your pecs—but why?

Deal A’s research is purely a ranking by prevalence, so it’s silent on the rationales people have for being inked with brand names, products and characters. Others, however, have looked into the matter.

For instance, marketing consultant Bill Hartzer blogged about this trend well over a decade ago. He identified multiple reasons why consumers would eschew the classic “Mom” or anchor tattoos of yore in favor of Apple’s apple or perhaps a nice Pikachu. Such a tattoo might signify some memorable event related to the brand in the bearer’s life, he argued.

But the deeper reasons are the social and psychological ones. On a fundamental level, tattoos identify the wearer as belonging to a larger group of fans. Or, in the case of more political brands, they signify a person’s credos or beliefs.

“Brand tattoos remind customers of personal values,” Hartzer observed. “The tattoo is a permanent badge with special meaning. It creates a powerful recall cue of the memories, experiences, emotions and other positive associations they have with the brand.”

He added that brand marketers would do well to pay particular attention to people who get inked with their brands’ logos, tapping them for insights if possible. This class of super fans, he said, are “people with whom marketers should engage, talk, and most importantly, listen.”

For rent: consumers’ backsides

It’s probably an inducement if the logo to be inked has some aesthetic merit on its own. Coca-Cola, for example, isn’t only a famous soft drink with a devoted fan base; its Spencerian-scripted logo—created by advertising man Frank Mason Robinson in 1886—still looks cool these 136 years later. Little wonder, then, that in 2020, Inked magazine published a hit parade of Coca-Cola tattoos, culled from Instagram.

One other reason (albeit a rare one) a consumer might get himself a brand tattoo is that he gets paid for it.

The early aughts saw several prominent examples of what was then termed “skinvertising,” in which a handful of enterprising (or utterly foolish) Americans sold tattoo space on their bodies to any brand willing to pay for it.

In 2005, for example, a Salt Lake City woman named Karolyne Smith put the space on her forehead on eBay under the “Buy It Now” option. Price? $10,000.

Online gaming platform GoldenPalace.com snapped the deal up. Despite employees at the tattoo parlor reportedly spending hours trying to talk Smith out of it, she got the ink. The money might have seemed like a lot at the time, especially in Utah, but it apparently wasn’t enough. As of 2012, BuzzFeed reported that Smith had moved back into her father’s house (to the basement, no less.)

What if the brand goes belly-up?

If it’s any consolation to Smith—and it probably isn’t—GoldenPalace is still cooking right along. A more cautionary tattoo-for-case tale can be found in the case of a once thriving apartment-rental firm in New York.

In 2013, a flamboyant real estate man named Anthony Lolli—founder of a franchised brokerage called Rapid Realty—made the evening news when he offered his employees a 15% raise if they got a tattoo of the company logo. (Lolli said he got the idea from an employee who’d voluntarily inked himself already.)

Some 40 employees did it, if at times halfheartedly: One worker got the Rapid Realty logo done behind her ear, according to CBS News.

Others simply refused. “It’s a scar for life,” said one. “I have enough of those.”

But as the Real Deal reported in 2019, Lolli eventually sold his company and walked away. Does Rapid Realty even exist anymore? At press time, it’s been 824 days since its Facebook page has been updated. Meanwhile, Rapid Realty’s presumably official website—whose text is in Indonesian—is offering “tips on how to run a property business without capital.”

These days, Rapid’s former employees might well wish they’d just gotten a Lego tattoo instead.


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