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If Your Next Marketing Campaign Involves Tattoos, it Might be Time To Hire an Agency

Harley doesn’t have to pay for it — they get it for free

Branding is a very powerful thing. One of the best ways to know your brand has truly struck a chord with customers is when it starts showing up in tattoos. It is entirely possible that, at this very moment, someone somewhere is getting the words “Harley” and “Davidson” forever inscribed on their skin. After all, Harley is a truly iconic brand that, for millions and millions of people, defines cool (despite the fact that Harley makes crappy motorcycles). Unfortunately, over the past several years, there have been some marketeers who have seen fit to create marketing campaigns involving tattoos. Perhaps the most famous is Golden Palace, an online casino that actually found someone so desperate for cash that she was willing to have the company’s logo tattooed across her forehead for $15,000. The move was demeaning and sad, but generated a ton of publicity. While nearly all of it was negative, the campaign met its objective — to get the company’s name out there. It’s OK to be gross if you are an online casino. Earlier this month, a video of a guy getting a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses tattooed on his face went viral. It isn’t clear whether Ray-Ban or one of its agencies was in on it (or even whether or not it is real). If Ray-Ban is behind it and actually paid this kid to get that tattoo, that is pretty awful. Even if they got away with it without being directly implicated, I still don’t think it does anything to help the brand. Unlike Golden Palace, Ray-Ban does have an image to uphold. Convincing some rube to get a terrible tattoo on his face as a marketing stunt isn’t hip — it’s immoral and wrong.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Right now, Titus Cycles is running a campaign on Facebook where people design a Titus Tattoo and tell the community of Facebook fans where on their bodies they would put it. Fans vote on which concept they like best and the “winner” is flown to Titus headquarters in Arizona, gets the tattoo (applied by an artist of the company’s choosing) and is awarded a mountain bike worth about $5,500. It is true that Titus does make one hell of a mountain bike (I actually own one and love it). Some might even say the brand is tattoo-worthy. But this campaign is sophomoric and shows the company doesn’t truly understand either branding or tattoos. Titus makes high-end, high-dollar bikes. While I’m sure there are plenty of potential Titus customers who dig tattoos there are many more who probably don’t. Tattoos just aren’t an integral part of the cycling or mountain biking culture. And, while tattoos are a lot more mainstream than they used to be, they are still pretty edgy. The problem is, Titus doesn’t come off as a particularly edgy company, nor should it. Titus has actually earned the right to position itself as a premium brand. When a company legitimately can position itself that way, it absolutely should. Obviously someone at Titus understands this nuance because the company’s new Website does just that. It is gorgeous. It is worth noting that most of the riders pictured on the site are conspicuously ink-free. Then there’s the matter of the tattoo itself. When people choose to get a tattoo of a brand, it’s because they identify strongly with that brand. In a way, they are using the meaning of the brand to help define who they are. They are doing it because they want to, which makes it an authentic form of expression. Paying someone to get a tattoo of a brand changes all that. At the end of the day, it just turns the person into a living billboard. At that point it stops being authentic and is just lame. In addition, no serious collector of fine ink will let just anyone slap a tattoo on them. Many people — at least those with truly great work — will wait months or even years to get an appointment with the right artist. At the end of the day, there will always be people willing to do all sorts of odd things for a little bit of notoriety and a few dollars. But just because you can find people to do those things doesn’t mean you should. That tattoo is going to last a lot longer than any buzz you generate and, quite possibly, longer than your company will even be around.