Company Ink

(This article was orignially published January 23, 2012, on

My mom always hated Zebra Stripe Gum when I was a kid.  Best characterized as the crack cocaine of the bubblegum world, its intense flavor lasts a mere 15 seconds before disappearing completely. The user craves another and yet another piece, until all 17 sticks have been fervently gnashed.  This tendency towards heavy use, combined with my cavalier youthful attitude towards gum disposal, inevitably resulted in a sticky breadcrumb trail leading back to my Zebra Stripe den.

What my mom hated wasn’t nearly as much cleaning up a connect-the-dots of bubblegum on walls. It was what she always found me doing at the end of the bubblegum road.  It was the temporary tattoos.  They came free in every pack and they were a guaranteed mess. They were difficult to administer, and invariably produced a great deal of smearing and running of colors.  The end result was Hollywood-quality fake bruises that made a lot of the first grade class look like they belonged under the care of Child Protective Services.  All in all, the tattoos were probably not a good branding and marketing strategy for already controversial Zebra Stripe Gum.

I assumed that the temporary tattoo-marketing craze died with the DEA ban on Zebra Stripe, and my assumption held until I recently opened a package from  I was shocked to discover a high quality temporary tattoo folded in with my packing slip.

A Michigan based outdoor and adventure sports outfitter for whom quirkiness and ironic humor is a central brand characteristic, Moosejaw, is one of few companies for whom this ploy could work.  A fresher idea than another damn bumper sticker, the temporary tattoo is intriguing.  The tattoo, itself, however, was an illustration of toenail clippers.  It occurred to me that the tat may be too much of a joke on itself to ever see the warm embrace of a wet washcloth.  Even if this is the case, it is hard to chalk it up as a waste.  The gimmick may be just an end in itself for strengthening a brand identity.  Maybe you can’t realistically ask people to ink your branding onto their skin, right?

Wrong. Just this past week, in New York, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and here, in New Orleans, Sailor Jerry Rum gave away 101 tattoos, yes, REAL tattoos to commemorate the 101st birthday of late artist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins.  The catch; the tattoos had to be one of the trademark designs offered by Sailor Jerry Rum, who footed the bill, according to AdWeek.

Sailor Jerry’s marketers are apparently working off the classic spring break model of “Here, dude, drink this spiced rum. Yes, all of it. Great, now, we’re going to buy you a tattoo.  No, you can’t get whatever you want.  Actually, we were thinking Hello Kitty.”  I can tell you with certainty that this is not a good strategy, because it yields tattoos that bearers would rather die from than live to regret.   I would personally be embarrassed to have a stranger recognize my dragon or dice tattoo as a piece of corporate branding.  Don’t get me wrong, the designs, themselves, are cool.  I dig the whole West Coast nautical throwback style, but tattoos are supposed to be unique expressions of individualism.  I can’t foresee this being embraced by the tattoo community because it reeks of phoniness.  Nothing about this stunt makes sense to me.

Only blockheads like this guy dip in company ink (via Designboom)

Tattoos are a staple of the fringe community, a mainstay of alternative lifestyles.  And if there’s anything that counterculture does not embrace, it is rampant branding being forced down their throats, and now, under their skin.  No thanks, Jerry.  I’ll keep my Captain Morgan, and my dignity.   –Richard Carman


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