OC Rejects Bus Tattoo Ad

OCEAN CITY – Tattoos have become more mainstream then ever in recent years and are showing up more and more in unexpected places, but residents and visitors should not expect to see an advertisement for a local tattoo parlor on a bus any time soon.

Independent Tattoo Inc. of Selbyville, Del. recently submitted an application for an ad on an Ocean City bus for the coming season, but the request was denied out of hand. City Manager Dennis Dare explained this week the Mayor and Council hold sway over the types of businesses approved for wrapped advertising on town buses, restrictions that are written into the contract with Direct Media, Inc., the company that promotes and sells the advertising medium in the resort.

“The Mayor and Council have an agreement with the ad agency selling advertising on the city buses and under the current contract, there are certain restrictions,” he said. “There are things in the contract that prevent advertising for things like alcohol, tobacco and gambling, for instance.”

Dare said when Direct Media presented the proposal for Independent Tattoo, he evoked the clause in the contract that restricts the type of advertising allowed and denied the application.

“The ad agency brought this ad forward for a tattoo parlor and I denied it,” he said. “The contract states all ads for the buses have to be approved by the town.”

Independent Tattoo sent a letter to Dare seeking an explanation for the denial. The letter states tattoos are mainstream and denying the company an opportunity to advertise appears somewhat hypocritical.

“These days, tattoos are everywhere,” the letter reads. “They can be found on celebrities, on doctors, on lawyers, on professionals, on friends, family members and co-workers, but not on Ocean City buses, and we are searching for the reason why – why there are buses that advertise bars, in a city with a Boardwalk hawking all manner of lewd T-shirts, will not be allowed to carry a professional, well-designed advertisement for a tattoo studio.”

Dare explained his reasons for the denial were essentially two-fold, the first of which was the discretion of the Mayor and Council to restrict the type of businesses allowed to advertise on the town’s buses.

“The Mayor and Council sets the policy and I interpreted their policy by restricting certain things that do not necessarily promote the family image we’ve tried so hard to nurture and improve over the years,” he said. “I think tattoos certainly fall into that vein.”

The second part of the equation, according to Dare, is the town’s firm policy against tattoo establishments in the resort. A few years back, town officials fiercely fought an effort to open a tattoo establishment in Ocean City and approved a stringent ordinance outlawing such shops.

“Several years ago, we went through this long, heated debate about tattoo parlors and the ordinance that came out of the debate includes several restrictions on them,” he said. “Allowing a tattoo parlor to advertise on a city bus would appear to fly counter to that.”

Dare also said there was a time when wrapping city buses with any advertising was resisted and only after certain restrictions were put in place were they approved. Since then, the town’s elected officials have been guarded about what is allowed with the focus remaining on promoting the town’s family image.

Nurturing and promoting the town’s family image, at least in the public sector, has been a long-established goal in Ocean City, although not always entirely successful. Independent Tattoo representatives said in the letter they were somewhat perplexed by the town’s position.

“We were led to believe it was declined, not due to the content, but because we are a tattoo studio and our type of business does not fit in with Ocean City’s image of a family town,” the letter reads. “The last thing we expected was that our advertisement would be denied solely on our type of business. Our tattoo studio is owned by people with families. Our studio employees people with families and many times, entire families come to our studio for a day of tattooing.”

Independent Tattoo officials said the denial was somewhat hypocritical.

“That reasoning for denial just doesn’t mesh with the reality of what we see and experience daily,” the letter reads. “Walk down a block of Ocean City’s beach or Boardwalk during the summer and you will see tattoos – moms with tattoos, dads with tattoos, grandparents with tattoos. They are already in Ocean City with their families supporting the economy. How then does an ad for a type of business, which these visitors have clearly already supported, not fit the image of the town?”

Dare said he could not remember another specific example of a potential advertiser on a town bus being denied, although the same basic policy is carried out with the family image tenet at the forefront.

“This just isn’t about buses,” he said. “We have our various events and festivals like Sunfest and Springfest, or the Air Show, and we’re always cognizant of the message the advertisers portray. We don’t allow Coca-Cola to advertise anywhere at our venues and events because we have an exclusive contract with Pepsi. Now, there is probably nothing more American than Coca-Cola, but we simply can’t allow them to advertise or place their products at our venues and events.”