Playboy is doing away with nudity. Will this be another ‘New Coke’ moment?

Late last year one of the most iconic brands of the late 20th century announced they would be doing away with what they are famous for in a few months from now.

Yes, Playboy will be doing away with nudity very soon – starting March 2016.

The first question from most was obviously, why? And they answered this question pretty honestly in a letter to readers, basically saying that “times change”.

It’s a logic you can’t really argue with in many ways. A lot has changed since Hugh Hefner launched Playboy into 1950’s conservative America. Sixty years on in the internet age, nudity and sex is but a google search away – literally at the touch of a button for almost anyone. Subscribers are down to around 800,000 people, well below the multi-millions of the pre-internet 1990’s, and the brand is seemingly struggling to maintain relevance with a new audience. With that in mind, those in charge of the brand have come to the understandable conclusion that something has to change.

My initial reaction was that this move by Playboy might be another ‘New Coke’ moment, and I wasn’t alone. The more I think about it however, I think it could actually be a really great strategic decision.

New Coke was the unofficial popular name for the reformulation of Coca-Cola introduced in the spring of 1985 by The Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola (also called Coke). New Coke originally had no separate name of its own, but was simply known as “the new taste of Coca-Cola” until 1992 when it was renamed Coca-Cola II.

 

Coca-Cola’s market share had been steadily losing ground to Pepsi and the company suspected that consumers preferred the latter’s sweeter taste, which they confirmed via numerous blind taste tests. However, the American public’s reaction to the change was negative, even hostile, and the new cola was a major marketing failure. The subsequent reintroduction less than three months later of Coke’s original formula, re-branded as “Coca-Cola Classic”, resulted in a significant gain in sales. (Wikipedia)

While nudity has been at the centre of the Playboy brand forever, its traditional publishing business is dying. Even though Playboy is doing exactly the same thing Coca-Cola did in 1985 – messing with a formula that loyal customers love – I think they realise that their future isn’t in publishing but elsewhere in their clothing and apparel side of the business and beyond.

While it might look like a seemingly risky move that goes against some branding fundamentals, I suspect the brand is intending to grow its appeal with a wider and younger market outside of publishing. To achieve this it makes sense to slowly shake the shackles of the ‘nudie mag’ and reshape their value proposition and relevance for a new generation.

Rather than trying to compete with the likes of Maxim, Esquire & GQ once they cover up and begin to lose subscribers (and I think they most certainly will), this looks to be more of a long play to reposition the future of the brand. A quick browse the ‘Playboy Products’ range on their website and you’ll discover all manner of fashion, music and product collaborations with the likes of Pitbull, Supreme, Blackheart Rum, Jart Skateboards and even Blitzway Art Toys.

Playboy have seemingly been slowly reinventing their brand for a little while now, and their ‘redesign’ of the magazine is just the next phase – albeit with their most iconic touchpoint. At first glance It looks like a brand disaster waiting to happen, but it may just be a master stroke that keeps the iconic bunny relevant with new customers and in popular culture for another 60 years.

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