An article in Friday's (November 30) Chicago Tribune (Corporate marketing schemes go skin deep) about how companies of all kinds are using tattoos as marketing vehicles, got us thinking about how food marketing companies and retailers could use body art to market their products and promote their stores.
First, a little about the Tribune piece. The article sights a Pew Research Center poll that says 36% of 18- to 25- year-olds have at least one tattoo, and two out of every five Americans aged 26 to 40 has one or more tattoos. That's a pretty high overall percentage of the general population in that age bracket--and 18- to- 40 is a pretty good demographic for marketers.
Tattoos originally were a sign of social nonconformity to a certain extent. Getting one was thought to make a person a bit more edgier than the average person. Once the mainstay of members of the military and biker gang members, tattoos have become near mainstream today. Soccer moms have them, as do teens, numerous business executives, academics, blue collar workers and others from nearly every social class and economic level. Tattoos are even called "body art" or "ink" more often today than they're called tattoos, reflecting the prevailing few that done tastefully they're socially exceptable.
This "mainstreaming" of tattoos has recently resulted in their adoption and use by marketers who sell everything from wine and energy drinks to shoes and tires, as a marketing and advertising medium. It appears the late Marshall Mcluhan was dead on when he said "The medium is the message." In the case of tattoo marketing and advertising, the medium couldn't be more human.
It's not just tattoo art directly on a person's body that marketers are using to advertise and promote their products and services. Creative companies also are using things like temporary tattoos as marketing tools to get their messages across in a imaginative, fun and interesting ways.
Convenience store retailer 7-Eleven has even created a tattoo-inspired energy drink called "Inked." Its target market are consumers who either have tattoos, want one, or like to think of themselves as what the chain calls "the tattoo type." That's edgy, hip, different, in other words. Among the many venues 7-Eleven plans to market the energy drink at are tattoo conventions and motorcycle rallies. (We suggest 7-Eleven get tattoo parlors and motorcycle dealerships to stock the drink for sale as well. We can see Inked" energy drink coolers, like those in health clubs for water and fresh juices, in these types of shops as we write this sentence.)
"We wanted to create a drink that appealed to men and woman, and the tattoo culture has really become popular with both genders," Michele Little, 7-Eleven's manager of non-carbonated beverages told the Chicago Tribune in explaining the genesis of the new private label energy drink brand. "The rite of tattoo passage isn't only limited to the young, but also to those who think and act young," Little added. (The "rite of tattoo passage." The phrase has a ring to it. Perhaps it should be added to the marketing lexicon.) She's right, as the tattoo demographics cited at the beginning of this piece demonstrate.
Marketers are finding that tattoo marketing is one of the many ways to sidestep the clutter of media advertising. "Marketers use tattoos both as a cultural icon and as the method to deliver the message," Kevin Lane Keller, a professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business who has studied the marketing strategy, told the Tribune. It's an attempt to do something different in a fresh way."
The Chicago Tribune piece sights Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and auto maker Volvo as two companies currently using tattoos in advertising and promotional campaigns.
For example, Goodyear offers a free set of tires to anybody who will get the company's flying D-logo tattooed somewhere on their body, according to the Tribune story. Thus far 98 people have taken the tire company up on its offer.
Volvo is taking a more elaborate approach with its tattoo marketing campaign. The car-maker has created a fictional character ("Tattoo man") who's tattoos spell out the coordinates of an undersea location of $50,000 in gold coins along with the keys to a new car. Linda Gangeri, Volvo's advertising manager, told the Tribune the "Tattoo Man" campaign is a way to get people to think about Volvo in a new way.
The use of temporary tattoos is becoming a popular marketing and promotional tool as well. Safeway Stores recently conducted a fresh produce for kids in-store promotion in which they gave away free fruit and vegetable temporary tattoos to kids shopping with their parents.
Fresh produce companies like Sunkist and others are providing temporary tattoos of fruits and vegetables to schools and other venues as a hip way to encourage kids to eat their fresh produce. And, according to the Tribune story, packaged goods company General Mills is selling Fruit Roll-Ups with tattoo-shaped cutouts that let children make temporary tongue tattoos.
We think tattoo marketing and advertising, in it's various forms, has the potential to be a low-cost and effective element of the marketing program mix for natural and specialty foods' manufacturers, marketers and retailers.
The chief reason we see it as having potential has primarily to do with the buzz, word-of-mouth advertising, and media attention marketers can get from what can be a relatively low-budget marketing element of an overall campaign. Word-of-mouth advertising has proven to be one of the most effective forms of advertising, as has viral marketing, it's online cousin. Further, marketers can generate a huge volume of press coverage do to the still fresh and unique aspect of using tattoos in their various forms as a marketing vehicle.
We don't think food marketers and retailers can get much marketing mileage out of programs similar to Good Year Tire's, in which the company offers consumer's something for free in return for getting their logo tattooed someplace on their body. This is more bark than bite--but it does generate media attention. We're writing about it. We also can imagine the potential legal liabilities if say an infection were to occur while a person is getting the Goodyear logo tattooed on their body. Additionally, what if a person decides to have it removed? Do they have to give the free tires back to Goodyear.
However, we do like the idea of a retailer, for example, picking a day in which all its stores offer shoppers 5% off their total grocery order in return for letting the clerk put a temporary tattoo of the grocer's logo on the back of their hand. These temporary tattoos last for two or three days, just enough time to create plenty of buzz and word-of-mouth advertising when people at the office, gym, mall or other venue ask the tattooed shopper "what's up" with the Whole Foods' or Safeway logo on the back of their hand. The 5% discount also helps build good will with customers--and might even get a few new ones in the door if its advertised ahead of time.
Another interesting use of temporary tattoos would be for packaged goods and fresh fruit and vegetable marketers to incorporate them into product promotions. For example, organic foods' for kids is an emerging market. Kids love playing with temporary tattoos and stickers of all kinds. Organic produce marketers could create characters, such a "Mini Carrot Man" or "Cedric the Celery Stalk," for example, and make temporary tattoos depicting these characters. The tattoo characters could then be included as a premium on packages of fresh fruits and vegetables and used in other promotional ways.
In a similar vain, organic packaged cereal manufacturers could create a character such as "Granola Man," a male, all-natural version of Dora the Explorer perhaps, and design a variety of temporary tattoos of the organic super hero. "Organic Granola Man" could have superpowers bestowed on him by virtue of the fact he eats brand X organic granola. The temporary tattoos could be placed inside each box of cereal and given out free to kids during in-store demos, among other uses. The only limit is the marketers imagination.
In terms of more elaborate forms of tattoo marketing, we think Volvo's campaign described earlier in this piece is a good one. As a brand, Volvo has traditionally been positioned as the "safe" car for middle-aged married couples with kids. The automaker wants to broaden its customer base to include more younger, single consumers. Their tattoo treasure hunt campaign featuring a hidden message somewhere on the body of "Tattoo Man," and the winning prize of $50,000 and a free car, shows a major effort by the automaker to try something new and risky as a way to reposition their brand. It reaches out to younger customers while at the same time not offending it's base.
Staid food brands could take a lesson from this campaign, especially for those marketers who want to broaden the demographic base of consumers who purchase their brands. The natural foods brand Health Valley is a good example. It's been around for decades and has a loyal following. However, it's also thought of as a brand for older people in the minds of natural foods consumers. It isn't hip. It's "your mother's" natural and organic foods brand.
A marketing campaign similar to Volvo's (no need to give away as big of a grand prize) could go a long way towards creating the type of buzz among younger consumers that's needed to make the brand more appealing to a larger demographic. In other words, a semi-edgy marketing campaign ("It's your brand now as well as your mother's") using some form of tattoo marketing, could create awareness among an entire new segment of natural foods consumers for the brand.
Tattoo marketing is just one of the many elements creative marketers and retailers are beginning to use to reach out beyond the clutter of media marketing and promotion to create buzz in the marketplace. It's also an attempt to reach younger consumers, who rather than spending the majority of their free time watching television or reading newspapers, are online or hanging out at cafes.
These younger consumers have found alternative ways to socialize, both online--MySpace and Facebook for example--and face-to-face--in mixed sex groups often rather than one-on-one dating. As a result, reaching them takes more effort on the part of marketers. Concepts like tattoo marketing speak their language and demonstrate that marketers are talking to them--not over them. It's a brave new world. Brave new marketers are needed to navigate it.