At Midlife Crossroads, Playboy Gets a Face-lift

Playboy magazine is pushing a new look with advertising from Fusion Idea Lab directed first to consumers and then to the trade, part of the publication’s efforts to recapture readers who have turned to the more hip “laddie” magazines.

Print ads from the Chicago agency use the tagline, “Men who get it, get it here.” The print effort is the biggest consumer push in nearly a decade as the magazine touts its redesign and its 50th anniversary.

“They want to run with advertising that is relevant to guys of all ages and send the message that their content is not old,” said Tom Renaud, Fusion Idea Lab’s director of business and client services.

Fusion’s first print ad, which broke June 27 in USA Today, features Playboy’s August cover with Survivor contestants Jenna Morasca and Heidi Strobel. (August is the first redesigned issue.) Copy reads: “The new look of Playboy. Bigger, bolder and more entertaining than ever before.” Outdoor and radio are planned for later in the year, with a trade effort aimed at media buyers breaking in September.

Lisa Natale, senior vice president and marketing director at Playboy, declined to reveal spending or additional details of the media plan.

Prey to an aging readership, the magazine is trying to attract readers in the 18-24-year-old age group, Natale said. That demographic has been serviced by a raft of new magazines in recent years, including Maxim and FHM. While its photo spreads are more graphic than what is featured in those magazines, many media experts feel Playboy’s content has failed to keep pace with a new generation of readers.

To fix the problem, the magazine hired James Kaminsky away from rival Maxim in October. Under the new editor, Playboy “is using more bold, colorful pictures and covering controversial topics,” Natale said.

Articles during Kaminsky’s tenure include a writer’s firsthand account of an ecstasy-like drug called Foxy in the July issue and true tales from a crime-scene cleanup crew in August. The magazine also makes greater use of sidebars and graphics, and includes videogame reviews.

“The original format has become too old, and they clearly needed to contemporize the publication,” said Steve Greenberger, senior vice president, director of print at Zenith Media in New York.

Greenberger believes it’s too early to tell if Playboy’s revamp will connect with readers and advertisers. “It’s a work in progress,” he said.

Fusion picked up the Playboy business in June following a brief review. Recent advertising was handled in-house.

Playboy did not have any media expenditures in 2002 through March of this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Spending averaged around $1 million in the 1990s.

Playboy’s paid circulation average was 3.2 million last year, up 2 percent, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Maxim’s circulation was 2.5 million, down 1.2 percent, according to ABC. But its revenue far exceeds Playboy, at $86.7 million in the first six months of 2003 compared with $36.4 million for Playboy, according to PIB and TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.