“Tattoos in the workplace” is a common area of discussion for body mod enthusiasts – but what about tattoos for the workplace? Over the last few years, a trend has emerged that speaks not only to the cultural relevance of tattoos, but also to the state of the economy – people tattooing corporate logos on their bodies. For some, this means getting their own employer’s name (Rapid Realty of New York boasts almost 40 employees that have the company’s logo tattooed on them); for others, it means selling advertising space on their own bodies (Billy the Human Billboard currently has over 20 logos and websites tattooed on his face alone). Still others do it to show loyalty to the brand itself. What it means for them all is a permanent corporate branding.
Of course, this trend is not entirely new. Both bikers and sports fans have long been getting their favourite brand or team’s logo tattooed on them, and pretty well every tattoo artist on Earth has tattooed the Nike “swoosh” on someone at some point. But the idea of being paid to advertise in such a way, or to willingly turn oneself into a walking billboard, is far more recent, and has some interesting implications.
Rapid Realty offered a 15% raise to any employee that got the tattoo, and in today’s rough real estate market, 36 employees decided that was too good an offer to refuse. Billy has stated in interviews that it is supporting his family in a rocky economy that drove him to such lengths. Many others tell a similar story; a lack of stable jobs, bills that seem to get bigger every year, and families to support has forced them to think outside the box, and corporations are generally more than happy to pay a little cash for some sensational advertising (though there are exceptions – in researching this phenomena, I ran across two separate companies that expressed a great disdain at the idea of their logo being inked into someone’s face…).
For some, however, it’s about more than just money. A Utah woman made headlines a few years ago for auctioning off her forehead on eBay, promising to tattoo the corporate logo of the highest bidder smack in the center. She made good on her promise, tattooing “goldenpalace.com” across her head for a cool ten thousand dollars. It didn’t seem to be the money she was interested in, however, stating on the original eBay listing that she “loves to be the center of attention”. And a 2009 study on corporate tattoos has suggested that many people happily get corporate brands done of their own volition, no payment necessary, to feel part of a perceived “in-group” (we’re not naming any names, here, but a lot of those tattoos strongly resembled partially eaten apples…).
For many, this trend brings up more questions than answers: sure, some are clearly in it for the money, some for the attention, and some are simply following a fad – but is there something more to this? Tattoos, from their very inception, have had a cultural foundation. We can learn a lot about a culture and its history from the tattoos left behind – what, then, will the archaeologists and historians of the future have to say about the corporate logos they will find on us? What will this tell them about our culture? Will they see a people so obsessed with capitalism and consumption that they felt moved to permanently brand themselves with the labels of their choice, or will they see a people that, in a faltering economy, were not afraid to become a walking billboard if it meant putting food on the table? Will they see trend-setters, or fad-followers?
It will be interesting to watch how the corporate logo fad plays out – who will come to regret their decisions, who will still be sporting porn-sites on their head a decade from now, and whether this blip in tattoo and corporate history makes a lasting impression on industry in general. For now, we can at least sleep a little better knowing that, if we ever need a quick ten grand, the solution may be as close as our foreheads.