Professor Paul Gollan and Doctor Chris Baumann, marketing lecturers at Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics, talk how brand tattoos are the extreme length of employer loyalty.
The ousted executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson, says there is “not a chance” to have her tattoowith the Times’ gothic T removed.
Why would someone have their employer’s logo tattooed in the first place, and why not have it removed after they get fired?
We know from Susan Fournier’s seminal work on brand relationships that consumers can fall in love with brands. Apple fans view Steve Jobs as a God-like figure, display i-something products with a passion and remain loyal to those products even when the product quality has been superseded by Samsung, its rival, in many ways. There is this strong emotional bond to brands by consumers, and what we now see with Jill Abramson is an extreme form of loyalty to one’s employer.
In the ‘good old days’, humans were attached to their family, community and often engrained in religious traditions and values. But in the modern Western world, the importance of such traditional values is increasingly reduced, with the new place-holder being brands. Strong brands represent values, personality and identity, and as such offer a sense of community and security in a value scattered world.
Brands attract humans in 4 ways:
- As customers (the Apple example where Steve Jobs is the Messiah)
- As investors (do you think there is money to be made?)
- As stakeholders (you like them in principal or you want or protest against them because of child or prison labour)
- As employees (you may like Apple products, but would you really want to work in a sweatshop and assemble its products?)
Firms have long discovered the importance of the 4th dimension and focus on Employer Branding where they boost their reputation as an employer of choice in order to attract, retain and engage ‘talent’. But for some ‘talent’ that attraction and bond has turned into a love affair as with Jill Abramson who tattooed their employer’s brand on their body for eternity. Actually, tattoos are supposed to be very private and are not often shown in public. But in Abramson’s case, the entire world knows about her tattoo, suggesting that her relationship with The New York Times is indeed a public love affair.
Brands can become so important in one’s life that the relationship becomes so strong, personal and intimate such as for Harley Davidson, sports clubs or indeed educational institutions. Abramson also has a crimson “H” for Harvard tattooed on her body.
The common denominator for customers, employees, investors, activists and government official is that they are all human, and humans have emotions. This can go overboard, and the attachment to a brand can be so strong that the brand ‘goes’ straight onto human bodies as tattoos and remains there even after cognitive disappointments. Abramson was fired from The New York Times (the cognitive disappointment), but she remains emotionally attached, and the tattoo is showcasing the unshuttered emotional bond.
Are all brands suited to achieve such strong emotional attachment from customers and employees? Would you have the Woolworths, Qantas or Westpac Bank logo tattooed to your body? Probably not. But prestigious iconic brands with strong emotional heritage like Harvard (Abramson like other alumni are proud to have graduated from that elite school, and the tattoo is testament to that), The New York Times – such a traditional long-established source of authority in information – or Harley Davidson, a representation of breaking out of everyday routine, seem to carry so much emotion even highly educated, normally highly rational humans get drawn into the irrational sphere and attach commercial logos to their bodies.
We are all human after all, and employer branding plays with these emotions when the overall brand promise offers sufficient historical equity to make people proud to be attached and tattooed. The danger with this form of branding is we lose sight of what are important relationships and how they can develop and change for better or for worse.