Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

skinvertising

noun [uncountable]

a form of advertising in which someone is paid to have a tattoo (= a permanent picture drawn on the skin) which advertises a product or service

skinvertise

verb [intransitive/transitive]

skinvertisement

noun [countable]

'There are some things I'll never get … You can now officially add skinvertising to the list. You know. When companies pay you to tattoo their ads on your body?'

MamaPop 22nd March 2013

'Back in the halcyon days of the dotcom boom, we did a lot of crazy things. … And, eventually, we skinvertised ads on the backs and arms and faces of human beings. And then those people had to go on living their lives.'

Gizmodo 12th September 2012

'The online casino website bought skinvertisements on several other people, including Billy Gibby, AKA Billy the Billboard.'

Daily Mail 27th September 2012

There's a form of advertising which, as well as augmenting the English language with a catchy new blend, has lent a whole new meaning to the expression 'branded for life'. Bizarre as it may sound, it seems that in return for a fee a number of people have been prepared to allow their skin to be turned into advertising space, a practice which has been dubbed skinvertising.

the practice of skinvertising is mainly associated with the dot com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s when … new online businesses resorted to extreme marketing stunts to advertise their wares

Skinvertising is when a person agrees to have some very visible part of their skin, usually their face, arm, hand or back, tattooed with an advertisement. If you're having trouble believing that anyone would contemplate such a thing, then check out the evidence in this image which shows a woman's forehead sporting an advertisement for an Internet casino.

People who become these 'human billboards', sometimes correspondingly referred to as skinvertisers, are usually motivated by the need for cash. A high-profile example (and shown in the image in the link above) is American mother Karolyne Smith, who in 2005 agreed to a $15,000 skinvertising deal with online casino Golden Palace in order to raise funds for her son's private education.

The practice of skinvertising is mainly associated with the dot com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s when, flush with start-up cash, new online businesses resorted to extreme marketing stunts to advertise their wares. Such unconventional advertising campaigns predictably provoked mixed reactions, and proved even more controversial when many of these businesses crashed. This subsequently left people who, even today, walk around with the names of defunct websites prominently and permanently etched onto their skin.

Background – skinvertising

Skinvertising is of course a blend of the words skin and advertising, first appearing in the early 2000s when the practice was a media sensation. The first advertising space of this kind was sold in 2003, when Illinois man Jim Nelson accepted $7,000 dollars in return for having an ad for a web hosting company tattooed on the back of his head. Nelson signed a contract stating that he would keep the tattoo for at least five years.

This controversial practice of purchasing human flesh in order to sell products was something that established companies, unlike start-ups, did not want to be associated with. When the media frenzy died down, so did the trend for skinvertising – but the tattoos have proved less ephemeral than the dot-coms that created them.

A rather less sensational but perhaps more appealing innovation in the domain of advertising is advertainment, which represents the idea that ads sell products when they entertain (so a blend of ad(vertisement) and entertainment). A classic example of advertainment is this cute ad featuring roller-skating babies, from bottled water company Evian in 2009.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Digital wildfire.

This article was first published on 13th August 2013.

Blog

A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog

Word of the Day

resurrection

the occasion on which Jesus Christ was brought back to life after his death, according to the Bible