Tats entertainment: Marketers get inked

Looking to make their mark with potential customers, companies across the country are tapping into tattoos as a marketing tool.

Businesses are launching products with tattoo-centric names, stamping their logos on temporary tattoos and using ink-covered models in their advertising.

Late last month, 7-Eleven began selling Inked, a proprietary energy drink. The beverage, at $1.99 for 12 ounces, is targeted at consumers with body art — as well as those without it who "think that having a tattoo is cool," says Michele Little, 7-Eleven category manager of non-carbonated drinks.

More specifically, Inked is aimed at 18- to 40-year-old men and women, says Little, who doesn't have a tattoo herself but would consider getting one.

Inked, by beverage maker Cott, cot comes in citrus or grapefruit flavors in cans designed to look like brightly colored tattoos.

Inked is hitting store shelves as body art becomes downright fashionable.

Not only do big-screen celebrities and soccer stars have tattoos (think: Angelina Jolie and David Beckham), "normal, everyday people," such as college students and stockbrokers, increasingly are sporting them, says Don Hellinger, CEO of tattoo-focused magazine Inked.

More than a third of people ages 18 to 25 have tattoos, and 40% of people 26 to 40 have them, says a Pew Research Center study conducted last year.

In addition to getting exposure on live body parts, tattoos are also getting an immense amount of TV time. Based on the success of Miami Ink— a tattoo parlor reality show that began in 2005 — TLC cable network this year launched two tattoo-related shows: London Ink and LA Ink. Cable network A&E also had its own offering, Inked,which went off the air last year.

The increasing amount of commercialism hasn't offended most tattoo-wearers, Hellinger says. In fact, many tattoo fans welcome it.

"It helps broaden the acceptance of tattoos," he says. "It gives a woman with a tattoo the confidence to wear a dress that she may not have worn before. It now gives a guy the confidence to roll up his long-sleeved shirt and show off some of his ink."

Yet, Hellinger does say the tattoo trend is getting under the skin of "hard-core enthusiasts."

For that group, "Tattoos were a sign of their individualism and their being rebels," he says. "As it becomes more mainstream, that (individuality) is taken away — and they resent marketers for it."

Opposition hasn't stopped companies from capitalizing on "tats." Some examples of how marketers are using them to increase their brands' exposure.

•Temporary tattoos. Wine company Yellow Tail included rip-out temporary tattoos in more than 600,000 copies of the Oct. 22 issue of The New Yorker. The tattoos, each about 3 inches by 4 inches, feature a black-and-white dragon with a bright yellow tail. "We wanted to create print advertising that was interactive and engaging," says Jeff Johnson, general manager of Yellow Tail ad agency Cramer-Krasselt/Hampel Stefanides.

•Print ads. Dodge ad agency BBDO Detroit created an offbeat ad to showcase the toughness of its Caliber hatchback. The ad, which shows a burly tattoo artist inking the back of a black Caliber, proclaims that the car is "anything but cute."

Upscale brand Chanel took a softer approach with its tattoo-centric ad in Vogue, which showed a model sporting Chanel glasses — and a tattoo of the brand's interlocked C logo.

•Contests.Inked magazine and Toyota tm recently teamed for a "Tattoo your Scion" promotion. The companies invited consumers to design a tattoo-covered car and submit their entries online at www.inkedmag.com/scion_contest or by mail. The winning design will be featured in an upcoming issue of Inked.

•Permanent branding. For the past three years, Dunlop Tires has hired a tattoo artist to etch its brand name, "flying D" logo or other tire-focused designs into the skin of attendees at an annual auto trade show. So far, 98 tattoos have been applied. Those who partake are rewarded for their pain, each getting a free set of tires.

Denny Jusczak, owner of custom-car company Never Satisfied Customs in Forest Lake, Minn., now has three Dunlop designs on his arms. "They get a lot of attention," he says.

For Dunlop, there's more publicity to come. Jusczak says he's heading back to the auto trade show in 2008 and will get yet another Dunlop design. "I'm ready for it," he says.