About 6 months ago I decided to get a tattoo of a watermelon. Although watermelon is not my favourite fruit, as my name is Melanie, I thought it would be a great idea to permanently “pun” myself and become watermelon-ie. Like a lot of other young people, I think that tattoos are becoming more accepted in the mainstream. Tattoos have changed significantly in meaning from their historical perception in recent years, and what young people are getting tattoos of is also dramatically changing.
A tattoo trend which appeared on my newsfeed recently which I can only describe as weirdly interesting, to the point that I could not stop scrolling, was consumers permanently branding themselves with images of the alcoholic beverage, Little Fat Lamb. The Little Fat Lamb Facebook page is constantly updated with dedicated consumers submitting their body modification tributes to the company’s product.
No, your eyes do not deceive you that is a tattoo of a litre bottle of cheap alcohol that probably is the reason for many of your worst (or best) nights out.
And it’s not just lovers of cheap alcohol that are inking themselves. Brands which have made their mark on their consumer’s skin are companies like Apple, Anytime Fitness, Tough Mudder and McDonalds. Personally, I cannot imagine being committed enough to a brand to permanently brand myself. Yet, as tattoos are significantly changing in meaning and social acceptance, this phenomenon could just be another way that consumers are deciding to publicly declare their love for a brand. Nevertheless, as a marketer, the reasons which make individuals reach one of the most dedicated levels of commitment to a brand is highly intriguing.
So how has the meaning of tattoos changed to become a way of committing yourself to a brand and what does this mean for the businesses behind them?
In Western culture, tattoos have largely been associated with criminality and deviance, being strictly prohibited by the Bible. Whereas many cultures throughout the world perceive tattoos as a symbol of honourability. During the 1980s, tattooing was reimagined and became what is known as the ‘Tattoo Renaissance’, where two major forces occurred which legitimised tattoos. During the first, artists looked toward indigenous cultures and traditional tattooing for inspiration. In the second, tattooing began to be perceived as a legitimate career pursuit and the number of artists specialising in the area throughout the world greatly increased. Even though tattooing in recent years has become increasingly commercialised, there is still a stigma surrounding tattoos, yet this has been significantly minimised from historical perceptions and has led to the types of tattoos which individuals are receiving changing.
Commodification of Culture
Consumers getting tattoos dedicated to brands is a part of the commodification of culture. In a commodified culture, consumers themselves become branded, resulting in a ‘commodified self’. Consumers which are permanently branding themselves with logo tattoos mostly believe that the brand is a representation of their individual identity. For these consumers, the brand often signifies a type of identity or lifestyle and the tattoo symbolises the individual’s membership.
Under the commodification of culture, brand loyalty plays a significant role in getting a logo tattoo, with these individuals believing that either the company represented in their logo tattoo was superior to other brands or that the brand represents a lifestyle they want to embrace. However, if a brand has significant number of individuals tattooing their logo on their body, it can be suggested that changing brand identity may have significant ramifications. This is because individuals have permanently embraced a commitment to the lifestyle through what a brand’s logo image represents, and changes in that image may result in remorse (or you could say they have ragrets).
Consumers are believed to possess a core self that is expanded to include items that then become part of the extended self. It has been suggested by consumer psychologists that possessions can act as an extension of the self. This means that consumers construct their identity and create an understanding of themselves through the items which they purchase and the experiences they consume.
Consequently, consumers who tattoo brand logos on their body are signifying that the brand they are getting inked with, is a part of their extended self and their definition of their identity. For some consumer’s, many brands may be a part of this extended self and tattooist Jason George represents this idea with 189 corporate logo tattoos on his body which he believes is a way of thanking the brands that have made an impact on his life.
Alike traditional tattoos which symbolise belonging to a certain tribe, brand tattoos could potentially act in the same way. Acquiring a permanent symbol of commitment to a brand could mean that the brand may have a dedicated consumer tribe. For a consumer tribe to exist, members within must “identify with one another, have shared experiences and emotions, and engage in collective social action all of which can be facilitated through a variety of brands, products, activities and services”.
However, those who are becoming a part of a consumer tribe are not completely influenced by the brand they have chosen to display on their body. For individuals who are part of consumer tribes, their motivation is to create social links with other people through shared use of products and services. Clearly, the individuals who are part of consumer tribes are acting loyally to a group of other consumers, and are not necessarily bound by one brand, as the group may hold a number of brands in high value due to the image they represent.
Whilst I cannot imagine permanently branding myself, it is evident that the meanings and significance of tattoos in popular culture are changing dramatically, which has led to an increase in brand tattoos. Clearly, with the rise in individuals inking themselves with logos, it is important for a business to understand the reasons surrounding why their consumers have chosen to do this, as it could be influenced by numerous theoretical explanations. Even though I might find the trend of tattooing cheap alcohol brands confusing and entertaining, some people may believe that this represents an important part of their identity, and achieving this level of commitment with consumers is highly influential for brands.