The ultimate sign of brand devotions = tattoos!

By Melanie Hollingsworth

There are a lot of ways to show your love for a brand – buy it religiously, like it on Facebook, dress yourself from head to toe in their products.  But the ultimate sign of brand love is when you actually get tattooed with their logo.

Having recently visited Kona, on the big island of Hawai’i, I was struck not only by its beautiful beaches, quiet way of life and amazing weather but also by the number of tattoo shops. Then I made the connection that this may be because the Ironman Triathlon World Championships are held there annually. And what do you do when you finish an Ironman? Get a tattoo to proudly highlight that fact.

The Ironman Triathlon race started in 1978 when three grueling long-distance races (a swim, a bike and a run) were combined into one 140.6 mile race as a way to settle a debate about whether bikers or runners were more fit. Participation in the race grew through a few fortuitous events: an article by a Sports Illustrated writer who was in Hawai’i to cover a golf tournament, coverage of one year’s race on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and media coverage about Julie Moss who was the leading female in the 1982 race until she collapsed right before the finish line. Though she was passed she still crawled across the line, creating one of the most iconic moments in the sport.

Today the Ironman Triathlon series has grown to 28 races around the world with hundreds of thousands of people having completed the challenge.

Sure Ironman isn’t a traditional brand in that it isn’t directly a product or service that we consume but it’s an interesting case study in branding and one that deserves respect.

The strongest reason for this is the fact that both people and other brands want to be associated with the brand, e.g. tattoos of the M-dot logo for finishers or Timex who paid to brand one of their watches ‘the Ironman’. Digging deeper, here are my proposed reasons that lead to this:

Official start of the Kona Ironman Triathlon World Championships

1) It over-delivers on expectations: The races creators don’t hide the fact that these races are difficult. They’re held in unforgiving weather conditions on courses that are overly grueling. You have to devote months on end for training. And yet any finisher I’ve spoken to says the feeling of crossing the finish line far exceeds anything they ever imagined (and hence why many people go back for another round). Plus you get a lifetime of bragging rights.

2) They build an emotional connection: once you join the Ironman community, there’s a wealth of resources for training, inspirational stories, diets, camaraderie, etc.

3) They strive for quality and consistency: Ironman Triathlons, Ironman, the M-Dot logo and even 140.6 and 70.3 (the half distance) are tightly controlled trade-marks. And only selected races around the world are allowed to brand themselves as Ironman Triathlon races.

The net outcome of our trip to Kona: the final push my husband needed to join the world of triathletes. And despite being a non-tattoo person, he can’t wait until he gets to visit one of those tattoo shops in Kona and proudly brand himself with the M-Dot.