For most people, the Playboy brand represents a very clear image. For many, the image isn't one they want to be associated with...at least in public. In March 2016 that changed: Playboy covered up. The March issue of the iconic magazine is the first ever without pictures of nude women. Taking a cue from their online edition, the print version is moving into public view in an effort to reshape the brand.
With circulation off 85% and ad revenue down, Playboy needed to rethink how their brand was positioned. Even though the magazine received high praise throughout the decades for its long-form journalism and high profile interviews, publishing nude pictures placed the brand in the same competitive set as more risqué magazines such as Hustler and Penthouse as well as adult and pornographic websites. These associations made the magazine off-base for many traditional advertisers even though they target the Playboy demographic. With the risk of pending failure, the publishers and marketers took a bold step to reposition the Playboy brand.
It appears that the new focus is the upscale lifestyle replete with sexy, seductive pictorials. This redefining changes the competitive frame Playboy competes in and moves it from the adult-pornographic realm into the lifestyle genre, facing off against such brands as GQ, Esquire, and Maxim. Playboy brings a huge amount of equity into this new market, but they will still need to work hard to recast the brand. It seems that the market is ready and even eager for the change as their first issue has 50% more ad pages then the same issue last year. The hill of success is still steep for Playboy, but the early measurement suggests they've taken the first step. The only question that remains is what took them so long?