Playboy gets help from surprising demo

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Playboy, the original “gentleman’s magazine” continues its culturally-motivated transformation. After more than 60 years selling nudity, the publication covered up its models, at least a bit, recently. But that was just the first in a series of moves meant to connect the company more closely to a few key demographics.

The number of Millennials being courted by this and other similar brands has been well publicized, but the massive new generation of young Americans coming of age in the 21st century are not the only group motivating Playboy’s market shifts. Two more growing demos for Playboy: women and the Chinese.

Remember, the Playboy brand is more than a magazine. The company markets “bunny brand” swag of all sorts across the globe. In a recent conversation with Fox Business, Scott Flanders, CEO of Playboy Enterprises, said women love the bunny. “Our licensing business is over $1.5 billion in retail sales … outside of China, almost all these products are bought by women.”

Flanders added that 40 percent of all revenue comes from China. “We never had a website or a TV station … never anything from a media standpoint…”

The CEO goes on to say, in China, Playboy isn’t about nude women and bunny costumes. It’s about the “good life” … upward mobility and a way for the Chinese consumer to imagine him or herself moving on up.

From a public relations standpoint, the life and times of the Playboy brand is an educational treasure trove. In the early days, the company was breaking new ground with every episode. Then, other brands entered the market. When Hustler broke the model, Playboy cemented its legacy as the classier skin magazine, focusing as much on rich living as on naked women. The world took notice, and a subtle shift began to occur.

Now, decades after the porn magazine wars of the 70s and 80s, most of the industry trade has moved online, leaving subscription print publications with heavy losses…unless they figure out a way to reinvent their personal wheel. For Playboy, that reinvention came from simply refining an aspect of its brand that had been carefully cultivated over decades. The brand may still sell dreams of materialism and excess, but it’s putting much of that focus on lifestyle and less on end result. Still selling fantasies, but opening them up to a broader market.

In addition, Playboy is fertilizing an aspect of its brand that today’s leadership has always been there, even if folks didn’t notice: Playboy as a social science pioneer. By promoting more progressive attitudes toward sexual minorities and gender rights, the company offers one of the most inclusive buy-in cultures of any brand in its industry…a decision leadership hopes resonates both with Millennials peeking at Playboy online and with all the women who love wearing and collecting the bunny brand.

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