The ampersand is one of those shady characters that has taken on a life of its own, thriving happily beyond its home in writing and typography. In particular, it exerts an irresistible power over designers, advertisers and others in the business of creating and promoting commercial brands. Fortnum & Mason, for example, recently published a blog post1 explaining “the little-known story of the important symbol sat between our two famous names”.* Crate & Barrel, the American homeware store, once built an advertising campaign around their ampersand;2 AT&T did the same earlier this year.3 As John Brownlee of Fast Co. Design puts it in “Why Designers Love The Ampersand”,
It’s the typographical equivalent of a wedding ring, used to mark permanent partnerships, like Marks & Spencer, Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, and Ben & Jerry’s.4
An ampersand, in other words, packs considerable significance into its designer-friendly shape. It’s only natural, then, that Washington DC’s &pizza chain of restaurants would appropriate the ampersand for its name and emblem. &pizza, though, have taken their investment in the ampersand a little further than most. Specifically, the company pays for its staff to get ampersand tattoos. As reported by the Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai 5, more than fifty &pizza employees now have ampersands tattooed somewhere on their bodies, all done courtesy of the chain’s co-founder, Michael Lastoria. As Lastoria explained:
We’re not doing this because we want [employees] to swear their allegiance to us like we’re some insane dictator […] We’re doing it because we listen to our people. They love the symbol, they love the look of it and they love what it stands for.
As I looked into the story a little more, I found that &pizza have since extended their offer of a tattoo to their customers. What I can only hope they call their amperbrand programme began like a loyalty scheme: any customer who spent $1,500 in &pizza restaurants was given the honorary title of “Maverick” and gifted an ampersand tattoo at a Washington tattoo parlour, along with an &pizza- branded jacket and a free photo shoot. (The company later relaxed their not-at-all-insane-or-dictatorial requirement for an ampersand design and let customers choose their own tattoos.)6
Since then, things have evolved yet further. Upon opening a new restaurant in Federal Hill, Baltimore, the first five customers in line were given a free ampersand tattoo and a year’s worth of free pizza.7 Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe of The Baltimore Sun talked to Michael Holt, to one of the fortunate five, to get the inside scoop:
“I wasn’t going to get another tattoo until I heard there was free pizza,” said Holt, a Baltimore native who works in Washington, D.C. and regularly visits &pizza’s branch there. “I thought I was done [with tattoos] forever.”
If the ampersand is the typographical equivalent of a wedding ring, however, &pizza boss Michael Lastoria remains unwilling to put a ring on it. The man who launched a thousand ampersand tattoos (I approximate for dramatic effect) has not joined his customers or employees in getting himself inked. Lastoria has set himself a “secret goal”, he says, after which he promises he will get an ampersand tattoo. What on earth could it be?
- “\#ONLYFORTNUMS: The Fortnum’s Ampersand,” Fortnum & Mason Journal, 2016. ↩︎
- Stuart Elliot, “A Crate & Barrel Campaign With an Emphasis on the &,” New York Times, 2012. ↩︎
- Dale Buss, “‘Power of &’: AT&T Highlights Agility in New B2B Marketing Campaign,” brandchannel, 2016. ↩︎
- John Brownlee, “Why Designers Love The Ampersand,” FastCo.Design, 2016. ↩︎
- Abha Bhattarai, “This local pizza chain pays for employee tattoos — of the company’s logo,” Washington Post, 2016. ↩︎
- Jessica Sidman, “Buy 150 Pizzas, And &pizza Will Pay For Your Tattoo,” Washington City Paper, 2014. ↩︎
- Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe, “Baltimore &pizza customers get logo tattoos for a year of free pizza,” Baltimore Sun, 2016. ↩︎
- FYI, Fortnum’s “little-known story” is that the company was once known as Fortnum, Mason & Co. Who knew‽ I am shocked, shocked by this revelation. ↩︎