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3 Marketing lessons from Hugh Hefner's Playbook

Posted by Jonathan Adams Filed Under Content

And no, this isn't the set-up for a Photoshop joke.

If your news feed looks anything like mine, you've been seeing a lot of Playboy. More accurately, you've been seeing a lot of headlines about the decision by Playboy's editors to no longer feature nude photos in their print edition. Opinions on the matter abound and offer many interesting reads, but my interest lies in the question: What can marketers learn from Playboy's latest move?

Disruption is a term often used in agency and marketing discussions and it doesn't get much more disruptive than moving away from your perceived core offering and reinventing your long-held approach to content. In the face of ad blocking, crowded distribution channels, emerging technologies and a skeptical consumer, there are several marketing lessons to be learned  by considering the challenges faced by Mr. Hefner and his iconic brand.

Hefner lesson #1: Taking risks and embracing unconventional techniques can gain unexpected results and learnings. Rely on data to increase your understanding of the habits and desires of your core audience, not simply to focus a sales opportunity.

Facing a circulation drop from 5.6 million in 1975 to just over 800,000 this year, a move into digital delivery of content via the web was necessary to connect to a younger audience, widen content circulation and deliver content in a popular way. While consumption of content in the workplace is desired by consumers, nudity in the workplace isn't an option. In August of 2014, Playboy's website went non-nude to better allow for SFW and social media viewing and saw the average age of its reader drop from 47 to slightly over 30 while web traffic increased from around 4 million unique visits per month to 16 million. This move also allowed PG-13 content to become snackable and shared across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where nudity is also prohibited. I wouldn't imagine any critics would have guessed that, in Playboy's case, less nudity and more clothing would have lead to a larger audience. 

Hefner Lesson #2: Be willing to redefine your approach to content while focusing on strengths you own. This allows you to differentiate yourself from the competition and offer a unique voice.

Despite being well known for its Playmates of the Month and centerfolds, Playboy's pages boast an impressive library of articles, fiction and interviews featuring, and written by, the likes of John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, John Cheever, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Malcom X, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter.

With a vast array of adult content options easily available with a single click, Playboy's nude photography no longer differentiated or set them apart from competitors. By focusing on its high quality and exclusive content, the magazine opens the opportunity to reinvent and redefine itself to avoid becoming obsolete.

Hefner Lesson #3: Understanding your audience, its needs and the user experience it craves is critical to making a lasting connection and delivering content in an appropriate and engaging way.

Playboy's other changes, such as adopting a cleaner, more modern style, expanded coverage of liquor, adding a sex-positive female advisor who will write enthusiastically about sex, and the inclusion of more work from visual artists arose from focus testing to better understand and attract 18- 30 something millennials.

With over 22 years of experience marketing to tech B2B audiences, McBru is strategically positioned to aid in creating content that engages and connects with your core customers. While we don't feature nudity on our site either,  mcbru.com is worth a visit to learn more about our approach to marketing and advertising.