Would you tattoo your favorite brand on your body?

As this generation grows up, tattoos become more and more a part of mainstream American culture. A 2003 Harris poll found that 16% of Americans have one or more tattoo (almost three times the amount found by Life magazine in 1936), with a full 36% of 18-29-year-olds having been inked at least once. But after thousands of years of deep-rooted tattoo practices, a new trend is emerging: tattoo advertising.

The permanence of tattoos has appealed to some innovative entities, both on the buying and selling ends. Billy Gibby first got the idea for selling space on his body to advertisers when his friend in California needed a kidney transplant and he couldn’t afford travel and post-operation expenses. “Billy the Billboard,” as he calls himself on his website, received $3,000 from GoldenPalace.com for a full back tattoo advertising the website. And he was able to make the journey to save his friend’s life. Gibby has taken the success of his first endeavor and since marketed himself as a “human billboard.”

“When I have found myself tight on money for Christmas presents or birthdays for any of my four kids, I have used my method of tattooing advertisements to make extra money,” he says on his site.

It seems philanthropy has often been at the heart of his advertising business; in addition to the kidney transplant, Gibby now hopes to donate part of his liver to a friend with cirrhosis.

“I hate to see people die on the waiting list for organ donations when there are so many people out there who can help,” he says. And he’s lived up to his commitment to assist. In 2009, he’d had six tattoo advertisements inked on his body and hoped to win a Guinness World Record for the most tattoo advertisements. Most recently, Billy counts 26 ads and still has real estate to spare.

He’s not the only one who’s capitalized on tattoo advertising, though. Popular clothing brand Ecko Unltd. has an official policy that anyone who gets a tattoo of one of their two logos (the rhino or the shears) gets 20% off merchandise for life. Ecko gets built-in life-long advertisements and the customers get a built-in life-long discount. Ecko’s website even offers a fan gallery of 33 people who have had the logos inked somewhere on their bodies, offering a bit of courage to those considering the benefits of a discount, and perhaps drawing on the sense of community associated with many tattoos.

Who knows if this trend will stick around. But as tattooing gains increasing acceptance in society, it might be considered a lucrative strategy by some investors: a one-time sum for a “ human billboard” that will be seen by thousands of people, throughout the billboard’s lifetime, might not be the worst use of money. At any rate, Gibby’s business continues to enable his good deeds and Ecko seems to be coming out on top with their tattoo deal.

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