Which brand would you tattoo?

by User Not Found | August 31, 2007
A few weeks ago, in a response to this post on whether or not Google was an iconic brand, my colleague Phil Herr proposed that a brand is iconic when "people readily tattoo the logo on their body." By this standard, Phil suggests, Harley-Davidson must be the most iconic brand of all - at least in the United States. Then he said, "I am curious to know whether Nigel’s readers in other countries have noted the phenomenon of logo tattooing."

I have a sneaking suspicion that Phil wasn't just guessing when he mentioned Harley-Davidson as the most tattooed brand. Research we conducted back in 2004 asked people which of 24 brands they would tattoo on their arm. Harley-Davidson came in on top, with 19% of people interviewed saying they'd be willing to tattoo the Harley logo on their arm. Runners-up to Harley were Disney (15%) and Coca-Cola (8%).

Martin Lindstrom reported these findings in his book BRAND sense. He went on to suggest that  permanently etching a brand's logo into your skin is a sign that you have unwavering faith in it. Martin likened this faith to religious fervor, and proposed that if brands are to engender this type of fervor, they must reflect a strong sense of purpose. He said "A brand needs to set challenges, question them, then conquer the challenges by turning itself into a hero – in just the same way that musicians, sports stars and movie celebrities do." As a result, people will identify with the brand.

In many ways, this description parallels the one I proposed for an iconic brand in my previous post. Therefore, willingness to tattoo may well be a good indicator of iconic status.

Looking back at the BRAND sense survey data, I see that Google ranked number 4 at the time. The fact that 7% of people were willing to tattoo Google onto their skin seems a pretty clear indication that the brand was on its way to becoming iconic. Rolex, Nike and Absolut all scored lower than the intangible newcomer.

Of course, the results will have been biased by the fact that the BRAND sense tattoo survey was conducted online among people in the United States. Also, we forced people to pick one of the brands on the list. They were not allowed to say they would not accept any brand tattoo.

My colleagues in Mexico, however, took a different approach in the survey they conducted earlier this year. They asked people first whether they would be willing to tattoo a brand name on themselves before asking which one they would choose.

The survey was conducted with a cross section of people living in metropolitan Mexico City. Key findings reported in Millward Brown's ePerspectives were as follows:

• 3 in 5 of those aged 13 and over in Mexico City would consider having a tattoo
• 1 in 4 would not be comfortable having a branded tattoo but would consider a tattoo displaying initials, names, religious icons and flowers
• 1 in 3 claimed they’d be happy to commit the ultimate act of brand loyalty and have a brand name or logo tattooed on their body

Ah, but which brands would they tattoo? To which brand-tribe do Mexicans aspire?

Mexicans, it seems, are attracted to the Coke side of life. Almost 1 in 10 of those who would accept a branded tattoo spontaneously chose Coca-Cola as the logo they would like. Nike and the snack brand Sabritas ranked second and third.

In the Mexican survey, only two people mentioned Harley-Davidson, and nobody mentioned Google. Clearly, Harley and Google are much more meaningful to people in the U.S. than to those south of the border. But as I reviewed in my post, maybe people do not need to be fervent about a brand for it to be iconic. Maybe they simply need to recognize the fervor it evokes in others?

So come on people, let's hear your take on this matter. If you live outside the U.S., do you regard Harley as iconic? What brands do you believe are iconic in your country? Are they the same ones people might tattoo on themselves?
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