Is Playboy Trying to Pull a New Coke?


Playboy is removing nudity from their print publication, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Maybe I hate change. Perhaps I think icons should be icons. Or maybe, I just really like boobs.

Rationally, it makes sense for the bottom line. When Playboy removed nudity from their web presence, their traffic increased by more than 200% as their readers could now view and forward their articles without the question of what’s tasteful (or allowed at work.) Removing the nude centerfold in the print publication would allow them to remove age restrictions, and the simple taboo of reading it in public.

On paper, it seems like the best move, and one I’m sure many branding and advertising consultants stand by.

This may help with a temporary increase in readers, but it won’t save the magazine. To survive in a world where print is fast becoming as endangered as a condor, they need to remember what made them great in the first place. It’s something they lost back in the early 80’s when Hugh Hefner stopped wearing clothes, and decided the magazine needed to compete with the more pornographic counterparts of Penthouse and Hustler.

In an interview with the Times, Playboy CEO Scott Flanders said, “That battle has been fought and won… you’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free.” I cannot disparage this fact (just look at my browser history). But Playboy wasn’t about that when they began. Sure, they have always celebrated a sex-positive mentality, but it was originally less about objectification and more about breaking cultural taboos.

What made Playboy great was the idea that you could talk about culture, the political landscape, (which didn’t always fall under correctness) civil rights, society at large, AND sexuality. In some respects, it helped reshape certain ideals of masculinity left over from the older generation. The models were either elusive celebrities showing a far more intimate side of themselves, or simply the girl next store. More importantly, it was a small part of a much larger narrative.

Playboy not only had it’s finger on the pulse of the world, it chose the rhythm. It became a melting pot of famed authors, civil rights leaders and a sophisticated culture just on the cusp of creature comfort. It was stylish, intelligent and most importantly, relevant. The joke about reading Playboy for the articles exists because there used to be articles worth reading. Interviews with Martin Luther King Jr, fiction by Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut and articles penned by Shel Silverstein sat next to reviews of the newest technology, music, fashion and yes, beautiful nekkid ladies.

It’s less about not seeing boobs, and more about Playboy folding into the type of magazine that inspired them to make something different in the first place.

If they want to survive they need to return to the social narrative they helped create. Just as they had previously, Playboy needs to reclaim sexuality, and censoring their content will not achieve this. Don’t remove nudity, just redefine what nudity is.

Nudity is more than silicon valleys with rivers of saline. It extends beyond tentacle porn and easily searchable gang bangs with naughty MILFs. We live in a world where one’s definition of beauty is not a single, uniform vision, and playboy could help push the idea back to the forefront. Lose the photoshop and airbrushing, celebrate a variety of body types and for god’s sake, free the nipple.

Most importantly, give us articles worth reading.

Now, perhaps, this is merely a modern variation of the New Coke strategy. Make a big deal out of changing the recipe and celebrate the free press and attention. Then, wait for the public outcry before returning to Playboy Classic, thus garnering even more free publicity and a boost in subscriptions. But they don’t seem that smart, at least not any more.

So, congratulations Playboy. You are now Maxim Magazine.

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