Advertisers Are Cozying Up to the New Playboy

Millions spent on research to refocus the iconic men's mag

Can Playboy really be, you know, Playboy without featuring photos of nude women?

The iconic men's magazine is certainly hoping so, starting with its March issue, in an attempt to avoid the fate of what Playboy's chief executive Scott Flanders called "harvesting a melting ice cube of an aging demographic."

"We want to align the magazine with the social media and app and dot-com experience," Flanders said. "And to do that, it has to be reaching a younger audience."

Research costing in the seven figures found that millennials don't want airbrushed centerfolds and think some of Playboy's franchises, like the joke page and cartoons, were antiquated—so they were eliminated.

"What we were told consistently through the first phase of this project was that advertisers wanted to borrow our brand equity and our edginess, and they did not want us to step too far away from that," Flanders said. "We've got such positive momentum with brands that never considered us in the past. The tension is remaining acceptable to them but still provocative and edgy enough that our audience is drawn toward us."

Some of the raciest images in the March issue were part of a gatefold ad by Dodge that featured classic Playboy nudes from the '70s and '80s artfully covered by shots of the company's $100,000 Viper sportscar. "Twenty-five years since we've had a single page taken by Chrysler, Ford or GM," Flanders said. "They'll win an award for that."


        Dodge bought several pages of ads in the first non-nude Playboy. Wieden + Kennedy

The new Playboy, then, allowed an advertiser like Dodge to safely sell its image by playing off the magazine's heritage. "This is why that Dodge ad is so genius," Flanders said. "It's as arresting as any content in the rest of the magazine."

Playboy rebranded its website as safe for work in 2014, and while women are still there, so are more mainstream videos like one on making peanut butter and jelly French toast that has more than 2 million views on Facebook.

For the first time, Playboy has been asked to present at the NewFronts in May in New York, where it will debut a slate of digital short-form shows. "It'll be, dare I say, among the most entertaining of all the NewFronts," Flanders said. "We intend to make a big splash there."

Flanders also said brands whose own heritage would never allow collaboration before are reaching out with ideas on working together.

"There was always just this hesitation from some—from many, frankly—to be associated with the brand because of what would it say about them and would some of their constituency potentially be offended," he said. "Removing this obstacle has opened up so much in terms of collaborations on the creative side that it's got my internal team pumped up at a level I've never seen them. They're getting to work with people that in the past rejected them."