Attitudes toward and Stereotypes of Persons with Body Art: Implications for Marketing Management

By Totten, Jeff W.; Lipscomb, Thomas J. et al. | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Attitudes toward and Stereotypes of Persons with Body Art: Implications for Marketing Management


Totten, Jeff W., Lipscomb, Thomas J., Jones, Michael A., Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


ABSTRACT

Although adorning the body by means of tattoos and body piercings is an ancient practice, it has become increasing popular as of late in Western cultures including the United States. The increasing popularity of body art has been most apparent among young adults and has given rise to a growth industry catering to these consumers. Little attention has been paid to the increasing popularity of body art from the marketing perspective. Since individuals engaged in a variety of marketing-related activities must interact with consumers on a face-to-face basis, it is important to understand the manner in which individuals with body art are perceived. The general purpose of this study was to investigate attitudes toward persons with body art. Data were collected by means of a survey of college students that included 496 respondents at 14 geographically diverse colleges and universities in the U.S. The results indicated that over 40 % of those responding reported that they possessed some form of body art. An analysis of three derived factors revealed that there are both positive as well as negative attitudes associated with persons who possess body art. The implications for the field of marketing management are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

A critical concern for many organizations is the image projected by their personnel to customers or other interest groups. Many organizations have dress codes designed to project a specific image (Wich, 2007). An issue which appears to be of increasing concern within the context of dress codes in the U.S.A. is the apparent increase in the prevalence of tattoos and body piercing among employees, adornments commonly referred to as body art. The concern results from the fact that body art has historically been associated with negative behavior and connotations. Though historically considered to be somewhat deviant behavior in Western society, social scientists argued that the use of body art is becoming increasingly diffused and embraced by the middle class (Carroll, Riffenburgh, Roberts & Myhre, 2002; DeMello, 2000; Rock, 2008).

Although the display of body art by employees is may be of particular concern to retailers in the U.S.A., the issue is actually more widespread: law firms, hospitals, non-profit organizations, and even government agencies such as state parks "wrestle" with the issue of how employees should dress (e.g., Body Art and Tattoos, 2006; Business Legal Reports, 2006; Dale, Bevili, Roach, Glasgow & Bracy, 2008; Felton-O'Brien, 2007; Mlodzik, 2007). The issue for managers is that both tattoos and body piercings with adornment have in the past often been associated with risky and deviant behavior in our culture. Uncertainty abounds from a management perspective as to how accepting of body art customers may be, and what stereotypes might come into play. What size tattoo is acceptable? How many are acceptable and on what parts of one's body? Are they more acceptable on women, or by women? The concern is not only about the existence, number, size and location of the tattoos, but what the tattoo might express (i.e. symbolism).

The issue is complicated by the fact that dress codes can quickly become legal "minefields" (Barron, 2007). Legal ramifications associated with the restriction of body art can include issues of sex discrimination, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. In fact, numerous lawsuits have resulted from the establishment mandatory dress codes for employees that included proscriptions against body art. One case in 2006 involved Red Robin Gourmet Burgers which was sued in a Washington state federal court as a result of terminating a member of the wait staff who had refused to cover tattoos on his wrists. The server who brought suit claimed in court that the tattoos were of religious significance and symbolized his devotion to Ra, the Egyptian sun god. The company countered that forbidding visible tattoos was essential to maintaining its "family-friendly" image (Barron, 2007). …

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