Article about human billboards who bear tattoos of defunct company logos

Buzzfeed has an article about the desperate people who cashed in on the skinvertising craze of the mid-2000s.
Golden palace Then there’s the case of perhaps the world’s most famous skinvertiser, Karolyne Smith (now Karolyne Williams), a young, blonde Utah mother who took her turn on the morning talk show circuit when she sold ad space on her forehead in 2005 to online casino for $10,000. She said she needed the money to finance private schooling for her young son. It’s unclear how long that money lasted, but Facebook photos show that the tattoo, now slightly faded, remains between her bangs. She wrote in a recent post that she’s been forced to move into the basement of her father’s house. (Smith didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.)

Meet the human billboards that sold their skin to companies that don't exist anymore. (Via Cynical-C)


  1. always wondered if there was so much a single incidence of: “oh look Mildred! there’s a giant inflated gorilla on that used car lot, lets go trade this car in!” or for this article:  “oh look Chauncey! there’s a woman with a casino ad on her forehead, lets go gamble!”  i’m sure i’m looking at this wrong somehow, but it sure seems never likely to pay off. now if the tattoo on the forehead was an advert for laser tattoo removal…

    1. I think that Golden Palace was deliberately trying to gain public mindshare through a nonstop parade of stunts.  Mostly what they were doing wasn’t strongly related to gambling – it was just to get eyeballs.  And it worked too – I know nothing about online gambling, but I know about golden palace.

      I think they bought some vaguely ridiculous stuff. . .  made some crazy offers that they knew would never be accepted (along the lines of, we’ll pay 5 million to have elvis’ corpse stuffed and mounted in our casino) – the point was not the acts themselves, but the attention that they drew.

      1. They know nobody’s going to see these dredges of humanity, they’re paying for the publicity over the inhuman act.

          1. If you believe that poor people are “dredges” by virtue of their poverty, your philosophy has a lot in common with Romney’s 47% speech and nothing in common with what most people consider “progressive.”  

          2. Fascinating term “productive.”  Tell me: who do you think is “productive”?

            This guy?

            This guy?

            These folks?

            And what exactly are they producing?  

            Awesome term, “productive”.  In contrast, and unlike the people profiled above, the woman you are defaming produced and raised a living being.  It’s almost like the term “productive” has acquired a perverse interpretation that includes those who take money from others without “producing” anything, while excluding those who actually “produce.”  


            What’s not funny is buying into the Romneyan fantasy that the rich, by virtue of their wealth, are morally superior (“productive”) and the poor, by virtue of their poverty, are subhuman “dredges” (probably not the word you intended to use).  

    2. It was never about anyone seeing that woman in the street. If you spend $10 000 on production and air time for a commercial then that will get you approximately nowhere.

      If you spend the same amount to humiliate a poor woman in a novel way or buy something wacky on eBay then you make it onto countless news programs and websites around the world at no extra cost.

  2. Funny phrasing: “forced to move into the basement of her father’s house.” Presumably out of shame, or perhaps  she’s being kept against her will.

  3. I’m glad this trend is gone. Turning poor, desperate people into living billboards is dehumanizing and degrading. I would think any company that did it would certainly get their name out there, but only as in “we’re a mindless, desperate greed machine that would do literally anything to spread our brand like a virus”.

      1. I make it a point not to wear logo only items. (Actually I do wear a “Shynola” shirt from time to time, but they gave it to me and make cool stuff) My basic rule is that if I am wearing a logo it means I like and support that logo’s company. For example, I’d be happy to wear a Boing Boing T – I’d even pay for it, in theory. (I haven’t bought one yet but I love you guys) It helps if the design is interesting. 

        1.  I like ones that advertise for defunct companies, like my Caldera shirt, but only if they were made when that company was actually operating.  I don’t want a reproduction Atari shirt, for example.

          I wouldn’t mind a shirt for Plymouth Motors, or for AMC, or for Packard Bell…

      2. My T-shirt collection:

        * “Boldy Going Nowhere” with an upside-down star trek logo where the comm badge would be
        * “How Do I Block You In Real Life?” in facebookish font, blue shirt.  I have no FB account.
        * Dexy’s Midnight Runners logo, with the expression “I Came On Eileen” underneath
        * Star Wars parody of WWII recruiting poster, “I Want You For The Imperial Forces”
        * Star Trek Starfleet Academy shirt, very worn out, rarely worn anymore
        * Caldera Openlinux shirt, kept because of the irony with SCO
        * Osmosis Jones movie shirt, was free at a convention, worn under jacket once while talking with someone, and osmosis came up, and he made an Osmosis Jones reference, so I unzipped the jacket and he doubled over laughing
        * A couple of 10 year old Apple Product Ad shirts, bought for a buck each a couple years ago when they were new old stock
        * “No, I Will Not Fix Your Computer”

        I probably have a couple others, but no nike, or billabong, tommy hilfiger, or any other brand shirt.  I choose to not generally shill for someone’s brands, and the Apple ones advertising products that haven’t been made for many years don’t give me the feeling of violating that.

      3.  I feel exactly the same way about t-shirts. If you’re wearing a shirt with a Nike logo or whatever, you’re a human billboard. I don’t do that, and I have never understood people who do so, for free no less!

        1. I think a manufacturer logo is a very minor example of this – more often the person wants to be associated with the image the logo provides.

          Much worse are soccer jerseys (and those of a few other sports) – you pay a massive premium and the overriding emblem isn’t the manufacturer logo or the team design, but the supersized ad.

    1. I’m glad this trend is gone as well, but I am not sure it’s dehumanization or degradation by the company. The payment and consequences here are very apparent and obvious. At some point we have to let people make bad decisions for themselves.

      1. I am not sure it’s dehumanization or degradation by the company.

        I don’t see what your argument is for that–it’s not as if there’s anything in the definition of “dehumanization or degradation” that assumes it happens without the person’s consent, a person can make an informed choice to accept dehumanization or degradation in exchange for money. (Obviously it would be more dehumanizing or degrading if it were done without their informed consent, though.) I also don’t think anyone was suggesting we shouldn’t “let people make bad decisions for themselves” in the sense of making this sort of thing illegal, but we can still say that companies that do it are behaving badly.

        1. “Turning poor, desperate people into living billboards is dehumanizing and degrading.”

          So, they were blaming the tattoo artist? I read that as blaming the company. If you don’t that may be where we see this differently.

          1. Huh? The idea that we should blame the company doesn’t contradict anything I said in my post (I even said “we can still say that the companies that do it are behaving badly”), so if you think this is a counterargument then you must have misunderstood me. I was saying that this is a dehumanizing and degrading thing for companies to do to people, and the fact that it’s done with the person’s consent doesn’t negate that since there’s nothing inherent in the notion of “dehumanizing and degrading” that assumes a lack of consent.

            Note that “blaming” the company doesn’t mean the person isn’t responsible for their own choice to get tattooed, I’m not talking about “blame” in the sense that the person is purely a victim. I’m just talking about the morality of what the company did, not whose fault it is the person suffers as a result of their choice (it’s both their faults, but what the company did was more immoral and what the person did was more just a bad decision). And the original comment you were responding to didn’t use the word “blame” at all, it just said what the companies did was dehumanizing and degrading (and therefore wrong). Do you think there’s nothing immoral in the choice of a company to pay people to do degrading things with lifelong consequences for them?

          2. hypnoslfl said pretty much exactly what I was going to say in reply to you. I’m not saying the people who got it done aren’t responsible for their own actions, but that doesn’t make any difference as to the morality of the company offering the deal in the first place.

      2. “At some point we have to let people make bad decisions for themselves.”

        I knew there was a Ron Paulentologist / BumFights crossover demographic.

      3.  It’s one thing to allow someone to make a bad decision, it’s quite another to pay them to make a bad decision for fun and profit.   

  4. I feel the same about all tattoos..they are all foolish, and the people are all fools imo. No matter the subject, no matter the image, they all look like stains or bruises to me. I don’t see any difference between these and all other tattoos. I’m surprised that you singled these out to mock..

    1. I myself am tattoo-free and imagine I always will be, yet I don’t expect others to be the same way. I do expect that for some people, the tattoo is intended to elicit exactly the sort of response you seem to be having.

    2. I think you’ll find you’re increasingly alone with that prejudiced view lacking the merest shred of nuance.

      I’d say a majority of tatts are a mistake (not up to the standard you’d think should apply), but since many of their owners would disagree, who am I to argue? It’s their skin.

      And the best tattoo work I’ve seen exposes your qualms as blind dogma. What an insult, to say there’s no daylight between the best stuff and this vile trash. For shame.

      Disclaimer: I have no tatts.

      Also, you may care to reflect on the fact that ‘unnatural’ is an oxymoron.

      1. I’m a non-tattooed person too. When I was in my teens and twenties, I can’t remember ever thinking, wanting, or believing anything long enough to get it inked into my skin. I’m glad I didn’t.
        But that’s me – to each their own.

    3. you see no difference at all between a website tattooed large upon someone’s forehead and a butterfly on someone’s ankle?  (i still like the notion of tattooed game-boards … “back-gammon”)

        1.  I’m trying to think of a joke about arousing your female opponent/chessboard in order to win the game (considering arousal affects tissue mass), but I keep getting distracted…

    4. To each their own, I can’t think of something so powerful and important that I know I want it inked on me for the rest of my life. I love my daughter like crazy, but even then I just don’t see how putting her face or name on my arm DOES anything.

      And I am ‘old school’, in that I don’t think it looks professional. especially some of those “what the f–k were you thinking” tattoos. People may call me judgmental for saying it, but you know what — you were free to inject ink into your skin, and I’m free to think it’s just stupid, nor does it make you cool.

      1. The sitcom My Name is Earl had a bit where Earl’s ex-wife needed to write down her kids’ birthdays and tugged her shorts off her hip and looked at her tats to get the birthdays. 

        It was awesome.

    5. Unless you feel the same about haircuts, clothing, and jewelry, your preference is purely aesthetic.  It seems a bit harsh to call everybody a fool who doesn’t share the same aesthetic taste as you.  I might call somebody a fool for doing something contrary to their own interest like driving a gas guzzling truck or eating poison or voting republican. But it’s a stretch to call someone a fool for simply having different taste in how they present themselves.  

      Personally I think the idea of tattoos is attractive – it shows a willingness to make an effort to add one’s own creative output to the world. It’s a perfect example of the experimental creative force that makes us human.  I even like tattoos that I would never personally get, in the same way that I enjoy seeing young bands play original songs that most people will never like — they’re adding their own personal artistic creation to the world, and that’s always a good thing.  

      1. “Unless you feel the same about haircuts, clothing, and jewelry, your preference is purely aesthetic”  The big difference though is the permanency of it — hair grows back, can be redyed, clothing and jewelry are easily changed in an instant. Tattoos intention I assume it to be permanent.

        A tattoo that sucks or lost its meaning is there to stay (unless you go through the expensive and imperfect removal process); people aren’t stuck with 80s hairband ‘do a la Ratt or Poison, and I’m pretty sure people don’t wear MC Hammer parachute pants these days.

        Just saying :)

        1. (a) sure. I guess a closer analogy is marriage.  Having kids.  Or getting a degree.  Or losing your virginity.  All permanent things that some would call foolish and that I would hate to miss out on in life.  Some might say “but these things are more valuable than a tattoo” and I would refer those people to my previous comments about the value of putting art out in the world.  You can live in a box and never take chances, or you can make the world a more interesting place.  
          (b) but in the era of Facebook, I’m not sure you can say that people aren’t stuck with their 80’s hairdo forever.  

      2.  “How they present themselves” to me makes me think they are fools. They are “presenting themselves” to other people, which includes me.
        PS, jewelry, haircuts and clothing can be changed. Tattoos are forever. Not even close to the same thing.
        I wear clothes and get haircuts because I have to. If tattoos are put on for the rest of us ( as almost all of them are) then my response is valid. Are they only getting tattoos so that we can love them? That’s even more ridiculous.

  5. They should have been smart enough to put some of the initial pay for getting the tattoo aside for eventual laser removal or cover-up tattoo work.  Those tattoos aren’t like most people’s tattoos that they at least thought were meaningful or visually cool at the time and they didn’t expect to ever change their feelings about that tattoo and what it represented.  They knew that they were being part of a publicity stunt. She didn’t just think that Golden Palace dot Com was the coolest thing in the universe and she was always going to be a super fan and want the world to see her allegiance to it.  She was just making an easy bunch of money.  She should have known that it was highly likely that down the road she’d not want that tattoo anymore and should have made plans in advance to deal with getting rid of it. 

    1. Tattoos generally cost more to remove than to have done in the first place, especially for ones so large and on such thin skin.

  6. The whole thing makes me sad. People can mock or tease her for being foolish, stupid or whatever… but I find it just tragic that people at times feel so desperate, so in need, that they would do something like this. I can be a cynical sob like most people, but something about this story just makes me depressed.

    1. I guess what surprises me the most is how LITTLE money she did this for, if we get into seven figure territory I might have a conversation about it.

      1. I think that’s part of what I find so depressing and tragic about it. Even if she was in dire straights, 10 grand really isn’t going to do much for you, nothing life changing anyway (by that I mean a nice home, a great education, or even a bit of financial security as examples)

          1. Pretty Woman wasn’t anything like Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts took the role on the understanding that she was going to play it like a real, down-and-out streetwalker. Hollywood had other ideas.

          2.  Certainly, but not usually as a conscious financial decision for a specific reason.  Ill-thought risks aren’t even in the same league as this.

  7. In Portland hipsters get tattoos for companies that never existed at all.  They go well with the imaginary band t-shirts.

    1. So, you’re saying that if you’re in desperate need of money, all you really need is a good *plan*. Gotcha.

      1. I suspect that this woman probably has psychological issues that are part and parcel of both her decision and her poverty. Her lack of planning is not really the issue so much as the symptom.

  8. Reminds me of the mug shot of the guy with “GIT-R DONE” tattooed on his forehead, and “GOT-R DID” tattooed on the back of his head.

  9. Kinda miss the go-go dot com period. Remember when you could get a free car if you lived & worked in the right area and would allow them to make your car a big advertisement? Some of those freebies required some smarts on the participants’ part for them to get it. This, however, stinks of poor judgement and especially at $10K. She must have been desperate.

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