| Nov 28, 2022

Playboy is Down, But Is It Out?

Hugh Hefner is gone and Playboy has been reinventing itself. However, the iconic brand is still walking a very fine line between a cleaner image and its adult-oriented past.

You would be forgiven if you had forgotten about Playboy over the past decade. It has been strangely quiet. A culture ruled by the loudest online personalities quickly forgets the silent companies. Recently though, Playboy has made some surprising strategic and tactical business moves that make it clear the brand is still in the game. 

Since 2019, Playboy has hired respected marketing and business leaders, moved into a ’70s- and ’80s-inspired retail clothing brand, and purchased several companies that signal a more significant shift into the retail space. However, it’s also clear that the company is not entirely ready to leave its risque past completely behind — the fact that its website is split between clothing aimed at teenage TikTok influencers and an 18+ section is proof Playboy is at a crossroads. 

A New Direction

Playboy has been an iconic brand for decades but recent scandals and serious allegations coming to light against the face of the brand, the late Hugh Hefner, have tarnished its reputation. Over the past several years, the company has quietly deprived curious teenagers the world over of its printed magazine after it was acquired by Mountain Crest Acquisition Corps (Mountain Crest). COVID may have played a role in that but the magazine was arguably the entire reason for the company’s existence. 

Mountain Crest’s acquisition brought with it tremendous brand recognition — people worldwide instantly recognize the silhouette of a debonair bunny with the floppy ear and have a pretty good idea of what they will get. Playboy has been synonymous with tongue-in-cheek gentlemen’s entertainment since its founding in the 1950s. For almost 60 years, Hefner was the face of a company anchored in bringing beautiful nude women to the masses. 

Hefner died in 2017, which means he missed the #MeToo movement, but the company’s fade to black since his death may well signal a desire to avoid being caught up in public controversy. So Playboy has been biding its time, quietly reorganizing and assessing its strategic direction, and hoping the public’s memory isn’t too long. 

Fresh New Leadership

Just because Playboy has flown under the radar for over five years, it hasn’t been idle. Playboy recently went through a spate of hires, bringing on women leaders like Ashley Kechter as president of global consumer goods, Megan Jordan as chief communications officer, and Julie Hastings as CEO of Honey Birdette. 

Honey Birdette is one of the women’s underwear brands that Playboy recently acquired; it has also purchased another underwear brand, Yandy, and a chain of sexual wellness stores called Lovers. The moves, along with the kitsch new line of licensed designer apparel from the Playboy brand, provide some insight into its significant shift into consumer goods under CEO Ben Kohn. 

Playboy is not ready to completely forsake its roots, though. One of Playboy’s current initiatives is a digital platform called Centerfold under chief brand officer Rachel Webber, which the company likens to OnlyFans, or “the uncensored Instagram,” as Kohn calls it. It brought on some significant influencers to fuel the launch of the beta version back in December 2021, most notably rapper Cardi B. It is billed as a way for influencers to interact directly with their fans and monetize those interactions. 

Still, anyone familiar with digital subscription platforms like these is familiar with the pitfalls and problems they can bring, foremost among them the challenge to keep human trafficking and child porn out. Hopefully, Playboy has a plan to keep those issues off its platform. 


The Coming Market Clash

With its trendy new clothing line, Playboy appears to be courting a younger generation of both men and women. Its clothing styles are explicit callbacks to the 1970s/80s (complete with pictures of past magazine covers), and you can easily see kids on TikTok sporting its brands. However, this is deeply incongruous with its Centerfold platform and the 18+ section of its website. Of course, the NSFW (not safe for work) content is hidden behind a paywall but the fact remains that Playboy appears to be trying to walk a very tight line between a cleaner image and its adult-oriented legacy. 

If it doesn’t adjust its focus soon, Playboy could see some demographic conflicts and lose any gains it has made in the public eye. Perhaps we are watching it cautiously branch out to see where it can be successful, and it will be interesting to see where Playboy ends up over the next decade. 

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Brand

Playboy arguably has one of the most recognizable brands in the world. For that reason alone, it’s clear the company is not on its way down. Playboy’s clothing designers have been putting in some serious hours to make the brand a legitimate player in the consumer space. However, while the new retail brands aren’t out of step with Playboy’s image as a sexy, fun company, it still has Centerfold and its more traditional erotic fare on its website.

This is a company in a delicate balance between saving its brand and burying lousy press. We can’t count it out because of how powerful the brand is but the company also doesn’t seem to be fully grappling with some of the damage it has done to women in the past. Playboy has some major work ahead if it wants to move on from Hugh Hefner’s legacy.  

Brook Zimmatore
Brook Zimmatore
Executive Author

CEO & Co-Founder, Massive Alliance

Brook is a media and publishing technologist and CEO at Massive Alliance. view profile


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