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Business & Technology

Tattoo art flowing into mainstream ads

March 9th, 2007 8:18 pm by AZAM AHMED

Tattoos - once considered outlaw art - have seeped from the skin of consumers into the fabric of advertising and marketing.

First trendy and now common as a form of personal expression, tattoos are popping up in magazine and online ads to sell a range of mass-appeal products looking to communicate an image of hipness or edginess, or just to stand out.

Converse has tattooed versions of its Chuck Taylor sneaker, and it has created an ad in which a man with facial tattoos is photographed with a pair of shoes adorning his neck.

Dodge has an ad for its Caliber in which an artist tattoos the bumper of a car, while Captain Morgan Rum Co., has released a rum called Tattoo.

A recent Juicy Couture ad marketing a fragrance features a heavily tattooed man seen with a group of models. And Elle magazine also recently published a fashion spread with a tattoo-covered male.

A survey by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology released last year found that more than one in three Americans age 18 to 29 has at least one tattoo. As the number of people sporting ink rises, advertisers are cashing in on the cachet of the art.

"In reality, anything that starts to bubble under pop culture is always co-opted by advertising," said Jim Schmidt, creative director at advertising firm Downtown Partners in Chicago.

"I've definitely seen more models with tattoos in ads. You used to never see people with tattoos in ads."

In a bid to communicate their messages to younger demographics, marketers are doing more than showcasing tattoo-covered models. They're also applying tattoo culture's aesthetic to graphic images and typefaces.

"It's almost as if it is the next cool step, the subliminal rendering of tattoos though the typeface of a logo, the backgrounds or the artwork that's incorporated into the advertisements themselves," said Marshall Cohen, chief fashion analyst at the NPD group in New York.

"It's a subtle attempt to put tattoos in the message so consumers can interpret it how they want."

Agencies and companies have used tattoo artists to create logos, ads and products. Camel cigarettes, for example, used New York tattoo artist Scott Campbell to launch its nationwide Camel Wides campaign.

He designed a collection of poster-size advertisements that look like old watercolor tattoos with hand-drawn lettering and bright colors.

Camel used a handful of other tattoo artists from across the country to design other ads and a few to draw designs for the cigarettes boxes, including Katja Opel, based in Houston, Philadelphia tattoo artist Jason Goldberg and Marcus Kuhn, who owns a tattoo parlor in Portland, Maine.

Gyro Worldwide, which worked on the Camel campaign, is also responsible for the Sailor Jerry line of merchandise that uses tattoo-inspired work from legendary tattoo artist Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, who tattooed during the World War II era in Hawaii.

Sailor Jerry Ltd., which Gyro owns, sells its own brand of rum, made by Glenfiddich, and has worked with Converse on a series of Sailor Jerry-tattooed Chuck Taylor shoes, Gyro owner Steven Grasse said.

For Camel, "The big consumer insight was that Wide smokers love self-expression, and tattoos are something they use to do it, and maybe there's something we can do to incorporate that into the product," said Todd Holbrook, Camel's senior marketing director.

Tattoo artist Campbell, who did the majority of Camel's Wide cigarette advertisements, has seen an explosion in the number of companies that want his design work.

Since doing the Camel Wide campaign, he has worked for Volkswagen, Comcast, Neiman Marcus, Nike, fashion designer Douglas Little, jewelry designer Bing Bang and Maserati.

"It's kind of just exploded into a bunch of different projects, some of it for people looking for tattoo-oriented designs and some of it for people looking for designs from artists who they consider in-the-know," he said.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM) Campbell, who owns Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, said clients seem to want a more hand-drawn aesthetic, eschewing the perfect "Photoshop cut-and-paste look." "Tattooers are this community of people who are so much more prolific than graphic designers, producing manually two to 10 drawings a day," he said. "With tattoos hitting more mainstream, that talent and skill has become more appreciated." (END OPTIONAL TRIM) For a Volkswagen Web site, Campbell was commissioned to draw a series of tarot cards to promote the new Eos car. He was commissioned by Nike to design the display for the exclusive Nike ID store in New York and is currently working on product design for the company, he said.

Overwhelmed by the amount of work, Campbell started his own advertising agency, Mama Tried.

"For a lot of clients, they can sit with their illustrator and hypothesize about what their target audience wants, but in a tattoo shop their target audience is in a chair sitting 20 feet away getting tattooed," Campbell said. "We're in the commercial world, but we're also a part of that target market."

In Chicago, tattoo artist Jake Kearney just completed a series of drawings for Olde English Malt Liquor advertisements. A local advertising agency, Upshot, contacted him with the offer.

"They wanted some artwork that was more tattoo art illustration, and I took a look at their older ads and they were very traditional," Kearney said. "All in all, I ended up drawing about nine different designs for them, and they seemed really pleased with what we came up with." Tattooing really hit the mainstream media when television shows like TLC's "Miami Ink" and A&E's "Inked" offered a reality TV spin on the trade. Since then, tattoo artists and media people say the effect has snowballed and helped the popularity and legitimacy of the culture spread. "Certainly tattooing is an authentic and real part of culture," said Paul Hirsch, creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago. Artists are divided about the commercialization of the art and acknowledge that a lot of the current popularity is momentary. Kearney, who works at Tatu Tattoo in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, said the work for Olde English was the first assignment he had received from a nationwide brand, but he noted that he had done other local commissions. "I would do it again, so long as the check clears," Kearney said. Patrick Cornolo, who tattoos at Cherry Bomb Tattoo in Chicago, said he doesn't mind accepting commissions to do ad campaigns. He recently did illustrations for Mess Marketing, a Chicago-based marketing firm, for a competition the firm was entering. "I don't really see a problem with it," Cornolo said. "There are probably some purists out there who would see that as a sell-out move, but I've got a family to support." Campbell, whose priorities have shifted toward ad-based work, said he often gets disparaging comments from people he knows in the tattoo community. "If advertisers and marketers are going to copy tattoo culture, they might as well get the tattoo artists doing it," he said. "They're going to get to it either way." (AP) © 2007, Chicago Tribune. Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. ----- PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): mktg-tattooads AP-NY-03-08-07 0626EST

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