Playboy Enterprises has better name recognition than Presidential candidates
by Elaine Morris Palmer, September, 2000
What do today’s presidential candidates wish they had heading toward election 2000? Playboy Enterprise’s name recognition, that’s what. Playboy, the brand, has higher recognition than any of them and, of course, the magazine is read by all of them as Christie Hefner can attest.
Ascending to positions of Chairman and CEO of the corporation as well as Chairman of playboy.com in1988, Hefner oversees policy, management and strategy in all areas of Playboy Enterprises. Not only has she eliminated unprofitable businesses during her tenure but initiated the company’s highly successful electronic and international expansion.
As early as 1994, Playboy became the first national magazine on the World Wide Web (prehistoric Net trivia: Playboy didn’t want to license to another brand so they got Mosaic’s Jim Clark to set up playboy.com) and was selling advertising the following summer. Among the online properties alone are the subscription-based Playboy CyberClub, including premium access to Playboy’s extensive photographic and editorial libraries.
For someone who inherited an empire, Hefner could have sat back and clipped
coupons and no one would have blinked an eye. But instead, this aggressively sure-footed 48 year old used her firepower to instinctively follow what she knew and intelligently gather information about what she didn’t.
Granted – Playboy’s war chest (a decidedly macho term the plainspoken Ms. Hefner never used during her Keynote address) includes 16 foreign editions of Playboy magazine – with international exposure in 160 countries, the Playboy TV network operating here and in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Playboy-branded apparel and lifestyle products available in more than 70 countries. Not to mention Playboy, the lifestyle – a state of mind re-creatable in different media and countless consumer products. No other magazine to date, according to Hefner, represents all that.
Certainly, to give credit where credit is due, her father put the resources in place for building this robust machine. But Christie Hefner contributed the one secret ingredient that exploded this brand into the virtual world and beyond: humility. Yes – humility. Flexibility in moving from sphere to sphere, she believes, is a matter of being humble about what’s not knowable. To marry the assets and brand value of traditional media to the culture and thinking of a new one takes heart, not just a pretty face. What often railroads success, she explains, is the hubris of not asking the consumer what he or she wants.
In determining where Playboy’s attributes intersect with future media outlets, Hefner recognized, as her father did before her, that to plug into popular culture (in the 60’s or the 90’s) meant acknowledging her responsibility to her existing consumer base and also growing a new community of loyal users.
Television’s properties, after all, are as different from the Internet’s as they are from the printed word. Translating print to broadcast might have produced “The Lonely Guy” network which would hardly have cut it. So, Playboy’s TV Channel is a couples thing. The Internet, in its own way, presents an equally challenging set of opportunities. For example, Playboy is monthly in print and daily online. Playboy, the magazine is eminently recyclable in print but the Playboy online archives are a profit center. Magazine formats limit letters to the editor while the interactive format encourages constant feedback. TV distills content down while the Internet requires neither editing for space nor time. And after all, the online audience doesn’t read the magazine the way generations did before them.
Creating new business models, unearthing new investment-generating profitability, and sourcing deeper opportunities to monetize traffic means speaking to a new generation of patrons. Each medium has expanded the Playboy audience. A holistic approach to digital content – on a global basis, unique to each medium is called for now. But Playboy’s TV experience did establish at least one important precedent: they could, in fact, break the rules meant for other online enterprises. They could sell content (Playboy CyberClub subscribers pay $6.25 per month to buy content), plus advertising, plus product (the Playboy store with its expanded product line is their biggest business) and makes money faster than rabbits can reproduce.
Playboy’s plans for the future include 100 new hours of content a year, events broadcast through enhanced TV, online gaming and generally using technology to further exploit the well-earned benefits of a global brand.
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