Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Playboy is reinventing its brand right now

When the nudity, parties and pajamas become passé, the bunny ‘n’ bow tie is given a chance to stand for more.

The past week has seen numerous articles on Playboy magazine’s decision to stop exhibiting nudity in its print edition. This follows the move earlier this summer to remove the same content from its website so it would be “safe for work”, which has resulted in quadrupled web traffic, mostly from social media. As Wired observed, this is what happens when platforms rule.

The old joke of reading Playboy “for the articles” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as its interviews, fiction and journalism have become its most valuable content. But not its most valuable asset.

This paragraph from the New York Times captures it perfectly:

The company now makes most of its money from licensing its ubiquitous brand and logo across the world — 40 percent of that business is in China even though the magazine is not available there — for bath products, fragrances, clothing, liquor and jewelry among other merchandise. Nudity in the magazine risks complaints from shoppers, and diminished distribution.

In 2009, in the dark days of the recession, The Motley Fool plotted the brand’s value at $500 million, with only 10% of that attributed to the print magazine. Today, it’s likely worth much more. That same year, Susan Gunelius wrote a book profiling Hugh Hefner as the ultimate brand champion. In sheer global recognition, the bunny is as culturally recognizable as the swoosh or the apple.

And like Nike and Apple, who have positioned themselves for growth through brand reinvention, Playboy is actively transforming before our eyes. When the disrobed women, mansion parties and recreational pajamas fall to the wayside, will the equity continue to grow?