The Future of Playboy

For more than five decades, Playboy has been a household name, thanks to the branding images of the Playboy Bunny and Hugh Hefner. But these days, there are some major changes afoot, not the least of which is the decision by Hef's daughter, Christie Hefner, to step down from her post as CEO of the company.

After more than 20 years, a new person will fill that position for the iconic company. To get a feel for what direction the new CEO should take Playboy, we asked a few veterans of the online adult industry what they would do if given the opportunity to become a big Bunny.

Scott Coffman, Founder and CEO, AEBN

I'm not going to go into downsizing or cost cutting, because then this becomes more of a financial piece instead of a vision article on how to change the brand, which will then change the revenue and profitability.

The brand has to become younger and cool. So everything I would implement would be starting at the top level and working on the brand image from the top down.

Playboy is tied to the image of Hugh Hefner, the man who started and built the company. Hugh is an icon, and you have to have him as part of the rebranding process, but more as a CEO and not the person out front who is most associated with the company. He becomes the founder and ambassador but not the image.

Next I do a search, just like they did with The Apprentice, where Donald Trump looks for his next apprentice. But here we're looking for the new Hugh Hefner. Hef would be the judge along with a panel of other people including maybe some hot bunnies. We would take applications from all over the country, with requirements being that you would have to be capable of running the business as president of Playboy but you would also have to have all the traits that encompass Hugh Hefner. So candidates would have to be good-looking, charming, successful, and have all those features that would make him an international playboy. This would be a lot like hunting for the new James Bond.

The show would be heavily publicized and would be the biggest reality show that has ever been aired. We would put the contestants through all types of endeavors to show that they have the qualities that would make them the next Hugh Hefner. The winner would then take his position as president and icon of Playboy.

With all the momentum from the show, we would then work off his celebrity popularity by opening up the house to many more parties, and sending him to all the hot events and branding him as an international playboy. At all events he would be surrounded by only the hottest bunnies, conveying to the world that he has the best life in the world.

This would start to change the image of the company. Next I would work on the magazine, because even though it is not currently a money maker, it is the most recognizable product of the brand. Playboy Magazine was read by everyone before you could find naked women all over the Internet, but now it offers nothing unique. Maxim is all about showing the hot celebrities because they know that is the only thing that will grab guys' attention in this age when naked pics are so easily accessible.

First we stop Photoshopping all the pics. We greatly expand our celebrity section, which is currently only two pages in the back. We no longer have the standard, boring three pictorials. It changes every month with no longer committing to a certain number of pages per pictorial. We increase the number of parties every month, have hot bunnies always at the house, and invite celebrities over constantly. This provides us the content to include in pictorials every month for the magazine. We also show our new president and icon all over the world partying with celebrities. There are more changes I would make but I'm running out of space.

I would sponsor parties all over the country on college campuses and become like a very high end but reputable "Girls Gone Wild." Women have a great opinion of Playboy and thus you have the ability to get them to do things they would never do for other outlets. This also puts your brand back in focus with the youth of America.

I would also start to sponsor events, UFC, X Games, start rebranding the product with events that are cool. This leads me into one area that I think would hold the most value for Playboy, which is licensing. Their current licensing deal with the Palms was a very good start. I would look for more licensing deals of this type. The more high profile licensing deals you do, the more clothing and other accessory items you will sell. Strip clubs are very mainstream now and are attended by men, women, and couples. I would strategically license the Playboy name to only the very top end clubs in the best cities and thus keep control of how your brand is presented in those clubs.

The Internet is where you increase your brand awareness, so I would be looking at many different licensing options on the Net. I would be trying to license the Playboy brand across the Net to other high traffic sites like Facebook. However I would need another 1,000 words to talk about my Internet strategy.

Dave Levine, owner,

Fifty years ago, there was no one better than Hugh Hefner at bringing respect and excitement to human sexuality through its brand, Playboy Magazine. Today, however, things have changed. The decline at Playboy is not just due to the tailspin of print publications. It is because Hugh Hefner is still trying to be a creative force at the magazine, and when Hef isn't calling the shots, the people guiding its content are editors and writers who don't know the first thing about being a playboy. It shouldn't be a surprise that the cultural influence, style, and selection of women in Playboy is not what it used to be. Without a genuine "playboy" at the helm, it is difficult for the magazine to live up to its reputation.

The Playboy brand built its success by showcasing beautiful, sophisticated, sexually open women, and also offered entertainment and information to excite the male imagination. Bottom line is that Playboy needs a new icon or possibly several men who are not only smart guys who can help create the content, style, and fashion for the magazine, but who also can select and display the most desirable women in the world. 

Playboy has been successful with its reality shows, cable channels, and radio, but they need to do more. Playboy's online site needs a total makeover. Rather than only show Playboy-owned content online in the dying monthly membership model, they should offer thousands of movies in addition to their own in a no-membership, pay-per-minute model. Then they extend that platform to work with their satellite, hotel, and cable porn offerings. Playboy could also use its trusted name to become a strong player in the adult product business. Again, rather than only sell its own Playboy products, they should sell thousands of other items along side its exclusive line.   

Blogs, websites, short online videos, social networks, and parties are the content distribution vehicles of the future, but if Playboy content continues to be driven by an out-of-touch Hefner, the content will not have an impact regardless of how it is distributed. And the easy money Playboy rakes in by licensing its name will eventually decline as well when people realize that the hottest women are no longer associated with the Playboy brand. Playboy needs to move Hugh Hefner into the background to improve its content and then update its distribution channels. If they do this, Playboy can regain its leadership position.

Anh Tran, Co-Founder,

I am writing this without the intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Playboy Enterprises. This is all purely based on what I perceive Playboy should do.  If I were to run Playboy today, I would do the following:

Refocus its efforts on being a lifestyle magazine.

Though Playboy has always been about the women, it needs to make a better effort at striking a balance between the gorgeous girls next door and the lifestyle that one would aspire to learn from the magazine in order to become a Playboy gentleman. Pictures and videos of naked women are ubiquitous both online and offline, and magazines like Maxim are encroaching on the practically nude hot chicks territory that Playboy's renowned for. A refocused effort on showing men how to improve their lives through the brand will have compounding effects on all aspects of business. After eight shitty years of sexual repression, the brand needs to remind people of the sexual revolution it had created and what that meant for men's lives.

Make it relevant for the 30-something to Boomer generation again.

Based on its current marketing efforts, Playboy seems too focused on a college to 20-something audience. It's lost its shine and luster for the generation that cared about which member of the Rat Pack attended a Playboy party. I like what they've done with going reality with shows like The Interns and The Girls Next Door, but does anyone above the age of 30 watch those shows? It seemed that once I turned 25, I didn't really care about the brand nearly as much as I had before. However, talking to people like my uncle, he reminisces about a time when Playboy was germane to his life.

Parlay the two above suggestions to engage customers in building new business services. Brand licensing appears to be one of Playboy's most profitable and growing divisions. It should start using its brand to license to lifestyle-based products and services.

There will never be another Hugh Hefner, but the brand could use more representation. They need more Hefners to represent the company around the world. My recommendation is to create a program called the Playboy Ambassadors program. These hand-selected, distinguished individuals serve as emissaries for what a Playboy gentleman should be. Each country and every major U.S. city would have one. They don't serve any real roles for the company, except maybe to attend some parties and functions for their local areas. It would help build the brand on an international basis, but more importantly this title would be something that every man, no matter what age, would aspire to have.

Allison Vivas, President,

Stepping into any leadership position as a new face is a difficult task, and given the state of the adult entertainment industry and national economy, taking on a leadership role at Playboy would be a large job. Besides the hefty undertaking of familiarization with the internal processes, establishing respect, and creating a strong, supporting leadership team, I'd (hypothetically) need to quickly move into setting the direction of the company.

My first steps would be to identify the core strengths, which in my mind are Playboy's successful mainstream branding, adult branding, and complete spectrum of content from soft to hard. It would be important to quickly create initiatives around these strengths such as increased mainstream partnerships, especially at the distribution level.   With new technologies and new consumer demands rising, it's important for Playboy to position itself ahead of the competition even if these distribution models don't yet reach the majority of consumers. Only the best of the best at Playboy would be tasked with supporting these initiatives.

Simultaneously, but with most energy focused around the aforementioned strengths, I'd anticipate a need to evolve processes, end ineffective spending, and end revenue leaks from poorly managed products. To do this effectively, I'd need to rely on my peers and co-workers, and everyone company-wide coming to an understanding that they each individually contribute to the business's success and we have more opportunity to individually reap benefits when business success (growth/profits) is truly achieved, hopefully shifting a culture to create an empowered team.

In general, this is a big "what if" that I really can only respond to from an outsider's general perspective, but there would be at least one thing in common that I'm sure any insider would agree with: the need for well-thought-out, yet quick and effective strategic implementation.

The article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of AVN Online. To subscribe, visit