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Playboy.com Has Grown 258% in a Year Thanks to Its Safe-for-Work Strategy

And new advertisers are lining up

Playboy says its massive growth is due to its emphasis on safe-for-work content.

Most people's first interaction with Playboy involves secretly buying (or "finding") one of the print editions and hiding the contraband between the mattresses.

But there's another side to the legendary men's publication—and yes, it involves actually reading the articles. To further get millennial audiences to read and share its materials, Playboy.com has been employing a safe-for-work (SFW) strategy for its online editorial content.

According to the publication, its working: The site saw a 258 percent year-over-year lift in global unique visitors between January 2014 and January 2015.

"Playboy as a brand is one of the few brands built for the Internet," Playboy svp of digital content and digital media Cory Jones said. "It's one of the few brands that can have permission to talk about anything."

Seven months ago, Playboy.com decided to take the reins of its online content from a third-party content creator and bring all editorial in-house. Jones explained it put a larger focus on writing about the tentpoles of men's lifestyle coverage—including nightlife, style and humor—which it felt worked well with the Internet culture of 2015.

Pieces ranged from the surprisingly feminist-leaning flowchart on when you should catcall a woman (long story short, you shouldn't) to how to find the perfect fitted suit, sponsored by Freemans Sporting Club.

"We're just trying to get guys to act more civilized," Jones said.

The publication believes the new emphasis on SFW materials is what's led Playboy to grow from 5.5 million global unique visitors in July 2014, the month before the relaunch, to 21.5 million global unique visitors this past January. Its video views on Playboy.com went from 50,000 views to 6 million views from July to December 2014.

The magazine's also experienced massive social media growth, now reaching 29.6 million users across its social platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. Playboy's Instagram alone has 1.7 million followers, with a total of 2.1 million engagements. Shareablee ranked it 15th out of the top 25 social U.S. brands of 2014.

While its key demographic is millennial males and 90 percent of its magazine readers are male, Playboy Chief Revenue Officer Matt Mastrangelo said his team is also interested in reaching a broader set of consumers. Thirty percent of its event marketing audience is female, and the percentage grows larger when it comes to licensed products including clothing and lingerie. 

"The brand will always be a destination for young men as they come of age," Mastrangelo said. "But, at its core it's about fun. We want every single person that engages with our brand to know it's about fun."

This strategy has also led to new advertisers, ranging from entertainment, TV, fashion lifestyle and grooming categories. Mastrangelo said since taking ownership of the editorial on its site, Playboy is running between 65 to 75 percent new advertisers, and it's seeing as much as a four-fold increase in advertising proposals and requests for proposal's since last year.

One new partner, Stolichnaya Premium Vodka, worked with the publication to create The Playbook, a digital branded hub for advice for millennial males ranging from which work bag to buy to recipes for kung pao wings. While there are a few articles that teach you how to make cocktails using Stoli, the content is something you can feel comfortable reading in a public place or even sharing with your parents. 

Stolichnaya Premium Vodka director Sarah Gorvitz said it worked with Playboy because it was interested in reaching the purchasing power of millennial males, and wanted to sell itself in an authentic way to this audience.

"Playboy and Stoli fit so well together to reach this demographic," she explained. "Both brands have a vibrant heritage, and we're both striving to keep our brands feeling relevant and fresh. Playboy has put tremendous focus on their digital properties, which is going to keep them relevant for younger men who consume the majority of their media online via digital, mobile and social channels."

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