Inking your #heart on your sleeve

Phoebe Connelly

What will those ingenious summer interns come up with next? A crop of interns for the global advertising firm BBH has rolled out the Social Tattoo Project, which inks volunteers with trending Twitter hashtags in an effort to translate news spikes around disasters into long-term attention, Mashable reports. Social Tattoo's motto: "Make what the world empathizes with today, what you care about forever."

"These tattoos don't lend to any direct action. However, we believe that the first step to take any sort of action toward alleviating these social issues is to be aware and connected with them," Jenn Huang, co-creator of the Social Tattoo Project, told The Lookout "That's why our volunteers serve as walking ambassadors." Huang's partners on the project are Haywood Watkins III  and Stephanie Krivitzky.

The enterprising interns (based in New York) recruit volunteers to receive one of four possible trending Twitter hashtags. At the end of a week of voting-by-retweet, the brave souls have the top hashtag--tastefully designed by the Sacred Tattoo on Broadway in New York--inked. Recipients do not see the design, or learn the hashtag, in advance. BBH provided the initial budget, Huang says, and Sacred Tattoo agreed to do the work at half-price.

So far, five tattoos have been executed: #humantrafficking (arms in shackles), #haiti (a map of the country and a broken heart), #poverty (a pie chart), #norway (a rose), and #japan (a wave). All of the recipients give their ages as between 21 and 25. (The one exception appears to be Mary Cabrera; she declined to state her age in the video touting the Social Tattoo project, but it seems safe to assume that as head of HR for BBH New York, she has likely made it into her 30s.) "Certainly, I mean, I'm not going to forget it, am I?" Cabrera remarked after receiving the #japan wave design on the inside of her right forearm.

The interns are part of the the agency's New York City summer internship program dubbed "The Barn" which set out to be, according to the BBH website, "one part Harry Potter, one part Golden Girls, one part Dragon's Den and one part Lady Gaga." The program began in 2010. Huang and partners were given a brief to "to change perception famously."

There is no indication on the project's website as to how, exactly, these tattoos will translate into action around the selected social issues. There is no mention on the site's pages of how one might engage in efforts to stop human trafficking or aid in ongoing relief efforts in Haiti. "We originally planned the project to be about empathy over all. But now that we have seen the project explode and grow, we want to create some sort of advocacy around it," Huang told The Lookout. She says they have discussed partnering with charities. "Adding links, that's actually a great idea."