brand loyalist

Our goal as marketers is to inspire “loyalty beyond reason”, as Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts put it. What better proof point than consumers who get a brand permanently tattooed on their skin?

Last week, a rum brand called Sailor Jerry held a marketing event in Brooklyn where they gave away free drinks to everyone willing to get a Sailor Jerry tattoo. Two hundred people lined up.

One fan named Sebastian said,

“I’m in love with Sailor Jerry. All I drink is Sailor Jerry. You know what, a lot of people don’t really understand, and I don’t expect them to because Sailor Jerry is mine.”

That’s such a wonderful articulation of what a brand means to a true fan. These are the types of advocates that we need to inspire in marketing. Too often we think of target audiences as blanket catch-alls. Too many brands seem marketed generally to “women, age 18-49, with a pulse”. When we try to appeal to everyone, we don’t appeal to anyone in a very meaningful way. One size fits none.

One commentator at the Sailor Jerry tattoo parlor said, “You couldn’t just be a cereal brand and expect people to get it tattooed on you.”

I disagree. While at method, I learned there are no low interest categories — only low interest brands. Method is a brand of cleaning products. Home cleaning is not the most exciting category. Yet the method brand inspired a fan named Nathan to start a dedicated blog called Method Lust: “One Man’s Unsupressed Lust For All Things Method Home”. Brand tattoos and dedicated fan blogs are artifacts of “loyalty beyond reason”.

Not every brand passes the tattoo test. But the memorable ones do.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

  1. Laurie says

    I’m not surprised at what some people will do…for attention, money, to be seen as cool or for whatever reason they choose to tattoo themselves with a company logo…of course if they had future vision would they do it? Is that tat going to look that cool at age 60…when some of those body parts start to sag or when lifestyle changes so that you are no longer a fan of the brand?

  2. Jeff says

    I can’t remember where I read this now, but someone said that without brands, modern humans cannot establish a personal identity, so wrapped up are we in consumer culture. (of course, they said it much more eloquently than this.) But I think it’s true. “Apple people” are the obvious target here, but before computers it was Coke or Pepsi; Chevy, Ford or Chrysler. All the brand tattoos are scary to me, but a logical extension of this.

  3. Tim says

    Love the tattoos, although some are super scary!! I am currently reading Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” about how brand loyalty and WOM is created, which is a great read, and I am also a fan of Lindstrom’s book “Brand Sense” which promotes using as many human senses as possible to create a powerful brand connection.

    I used Lindstrom’s book to re-launch the dated and production-led Wall’s sausages brand and although I would love to agree with your phrase “no low interest categories — only low interest brands” I am not 100% convinced. After all Wall’s sausages are not as compelling, or passion-inducing as another brand I have had the luck to manage, the FIA World Rally Championships….motor cars or sausages?! No contest and I love both, and I have seen more WRC tattoos than Wall’s!!

  4. Eric says

    In the power equipment industry this phenomenon of loyalty beyond reason manifests itself on the lawns of suburban America where homeowners many generations removed from the farm remain steadfastly loyal to John Deere, and are willing to pay price premiums to have a green machine in the yard. The 175 year old brand is deeply ingrained in “our blood”, though I have yet to see a tatoo…doubtless that they are out there.

  5. Scott S says

    As someone who strongly believes in the power of brands (my son is even named BRANDon), brand tattoos come as no surprise and I agree with Tom’s comment about low interest brands, not categories. While Harley-Davidson tattoos are seemingly the ubiquitous example, why is a motorcycle any more tattoo-worthy than your favorite online search provider or fast food restaurant? The answer lies not in the awesomeness of Harley motorcycles (although they are awesome) but in the remarkable relationship/bond that Harley riders have with the Company. There’s no reason that a toothpaste (which is after all a much more intimate product) could not engender that same passion.

  6. Ted says

    As usual, I love the marketoon and the stimulating exchange Tom elicits.

    It doesn’t surprise me that some brands elicit the kind of loyalty that results in a tattoo. And Tom’s point that, “…there are no low interest categories — only low interest brands” may hold true to a large extent (I might amend that to factor in circumstantial needs and interest).

    The loyalty and fanaticism for a brand that engenders a tattoo is the ultimate in brand “badge value.” That goes beyond mere loyalty – it’s about making a personal statement. When I worked on Marlboro years ago, if you put your pack of Marlboro Reds on the bar it made a different statement than a pack of Winstons. That’s how the Marlboro brand was built.

    It strikes me that most (if not all) of the tats above are more or less “badge value” brands, brands that say more about your personality, predisposition, etc. Those brands would seem to be more likely tattoo candidates than others.

    That said, the day I see a tattoo for Pampers, Crest or Velveeta on somebody’s arm or lower back will be the day I know it’s time to prepare for the Apocalypse.

  7. Bill Carlson says

    I am okay with the idea that a brand might think to itself “we aspire to be so important to a consumer, so valued by them, that they are proud to share the fact they pick us ahead of our competition, willing to ‘put that in writing’, so to speak…”

    It’s a little like boxing where you are taught to throw your punches at a target behind your opponent — thereby catching your opponent at the most powerful point in the punch. I do not agree with the idea that there are no low-interest categories but rather than defend that, I would say there is a benefit to every brand approaching its marketing based on the premise that their category IS a high-interest one. After all, how can you go wrong with that?

  8. priz says

    I wonder how far down the tattoo path these people are? If it was one amongst many it probably isn’t such a big deal. If it is the only tattoo that you have then your in a different headspace. Tom, even though your work is great I am not going to get a tattoo of your cartoon self portrait.

  9. says

    Hi all,

    Great perspective last week, thanks! I agree that the tattoos were a little creepy (particularly the Popeyes one on the beer belly), but I think there’s a lot to learn from those types of fanatics. I think of the tattoo, metaphorically, as that connection between a brand and consumers who feel like they “own” the brand. This week’s print goes to Ted. I love the example of Marlboro and the insight that these are “badge brands” that say something about the personality of that fanatic.



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