Out of the back alley shop and into the boardroom for the sales pitch. That's how much body art has changed in the last forty years. Once a sign of a shady character, tattoos are now hip and trendy, just perfect for advertising. The debate about permanently or temporarily renting your skin has brought about an interesting clash of personal expression and paid product placement.
With the easy application of the stick-on, temporary tattooing has brought skin advertising to the forefront. Special events and campaigns are accompanied by perky promoters handing out stick-on logos at concerts, street fairs and other large public gatherings. These advertising messages usually last a few days, long enough to get home from the event and garner some attention while still putting out the message. Body art, advertising and sports have been doing a dance around each other for a few years now.
With corporate sponsorship being the main support behind teams and players, the pressure to get that logo or brand out there all the time is at an all-time high. The Nevada Athletic Commission has grappled with the concept of boxers wearing temporary ads on their chests and backs as they compete in boxing matches, trying to ban the practice. In 2002, boxer Bernard Hopkins wore the logo of an online casino, earning about $100,000 over the course of several bouts. The NBA has already banned basketball players from wearing any "corporate insignia" except on shoes and league-supplied uniforms and gear.
IBM worked tattoos into the promotion of their iSeries line in May of 2004. Users of the system were encouraged to put on logo tattoos at the Common conference in San Antonio, with spotters at the con in the crowd to tap attendees wearing the tattoos to win prizes. Conditions like this ensure that the logo winds up someplace openly visible. Shown here is a bus stop ad for a San Francisco shopping center. The lady of the ad is shopping for the perfect tattoo to match her blouse.
The print ad has been embracing body art for many years now. New Jersey tattooist Shotsie Gorman was lured out of retirement to create a full-body tattoo leaving a large blank space in the middle of a man's back in the shape of the Absolut vodka bottle. A day's worth of body painting later, and you've got a memorable ad. A large financial institution recently ran billboards that showed an arm with a tattoo of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
One of the latest print campaigns to embrace body art happened as part of the 2004 November elections. Nonprofit group Declare Yourself combined forces with celebrity photographer David LaChapelle and producer Benenson Jansen to create their "only you can silence yourself" series of ads. In this print and commerical voter campaign, all of the models in the ads have their mouths closed up, via stapling, lacing, bolts and lip piercings. This is the biggest ad promotion to date that has piercing as a visual focus. A model with a single labret through both her lips on a billboard above Times Square certainly is more lip piercing than most people encounter daily. Major magazines ran the ads the summer of 2004 and into the fall.
If you're looking for more information about tattooing, you might like
Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing
by Clinton R. Sanders
Tattoos: The Ultimate Proof of a Successful Brand
by Denise Wymore