What happens to a business when its preeminent product becomes passe? Just ask Playboy founder and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner. The 90-year-old magazine magnate agreed to stop publishing images of naked women—Playboy’s claim to fame—with the March 2016 issue of the 62-year-old publication, which debuted in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe on the cover.
What caused Hef to change his tune? As the Internet evolved and pornographic images became freely available, the magazine known the world over for its provocative photos was forced to undergo a redesign. The content was simply no longer relevant, having lost out to the Web in shock value, commercial value and cultural significance.
As reported in The New York Times, Playboy’s circulation fell from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 in 2015.
Those of you familiar with the quintessential Playboy subscriber’s iffy claim, “I just buy it to read the articles,” may wonder about the magazine’s post-nudity viability. After all, even the company’s chief executive Scott Flanders told NYT that the magazine needs to answer a key question: “If you take nudity out, what’s left?”
As it turns out, Playboy seeks to remain relevant by producing content that competes with publications aimed at younger readers, such as Vice, according to the NYT article. Cory Jones, chief content officer for Playboy, explained that the magazine is aimed at millennials and will adopt a cleaner, more modern style, calling the content “a little more accessible.”
The less sexually explicit nature of the magazine (though it will still contain images of scantily clad women) makes it safe for work sites and allows it to be posted on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—all critical sources of Web traffic.
So far, the content strategy is working—at least digitally. Since last August, when the company dispensed with nudity on its website, visitor traffic grew from 4 million to 16 million per month. In addition, the average age of the company’s website visitors decreased post-nudity from 47 to 30.
Yet, it seems some reviewers are disappointed with the magazine’s new direction, with at least one calling the no-nudes Playboy “terrible.” She labeled its content “bland” and “not on brand,” and said it has “no competitive edge.”
Conversely, another reviewer called the new Playboy’s articles—now the raison d’être for the publication—“very good.” (Ironic, right?) Articles were deemed relevant to Playboy readers, being that many of them focus on sexuality and erotica. Yet, still, the reviewer complained that they do not add up to a coherent whole.
Advertising Age reports that the no-nudity Playboy is doing well with advertisers so far, with the first such issue comprising 55.5 percent more ad pages year-over-year. At least one advertiser found a kindred brand spirit in Playboy’s new millennial strategy, calling it a “really great fit.” Yet, as the new branding becomes old hat, this momentum may falter. In general, magazine ad pages have suffered as digital media grew.
So, what’s the moral of this story for marketers?
Well, the Playboy business—just midway through its rebranding effort—is now on sale for $500 million. So far, no bidders have come forth. US News reports that some analysts see the brand as overvalued despite its high recognition. One, Samir Husni, called the Playboy name “more of a liability than an asset,” referencing decades of discreditable deals that cheapened Playboy’s image—never mind the lewd undervaluing of feminine virtues.
Nevertheless, the rebranding may be the only hope for a company whose primary content has become irrelevant. Yet, it is Playboy’s strong brand that has enabled the publication to hold on while most other porn or soft porn publications have folded.
The question for Playboy, as yet unanswered, is: Can you drop your brand’s most recognizable content and survive?
Marketers: What do you think of Playboy’s chances for survival? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
As with her writing and editing, Peg brings her finely honed attention to detail and her adherence to high-quality standards to bear in her role as managing editor of Content Boost. As team leader, she encourages her staff to strive for excellence in the copy they craft and in the relationships they forge with clients, striving for an optimal customer experience. She caught the marketing bug after seven years as an editor and supervisor at Gartner Inc., the world’s leading IT research and advisory company, and was drawn to the spirit and talent exhibited at Content Boost. Tracing back to her early days working local beats as a journalist, Peg consistently digs deep for insights that bring value to her writing. Outside the office, Peg loves to read when she’s not trying to keep up with her cycling buddies or the weeds in her garden. She can be found enjoying the local scene in her hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.