Can Licensing Save the Playboy Brand?

Say what you will about Playboy, notorious purveyor of softcore smut and reality TV (which are pretty much the same thing)–Hugh Hefner‘s creation remains an iconic American brand synonymous with “the good life” and a healthy serving of old-school misogyny. Unfortunately, the company isn’t making much money these days–and now it’s hoping to find second life by lending its name and logo to the highest bidder(s).

The Internet’s endless collection of erotica all but ensured the failure of Playboy magazine’s once-solid business model. While the website’s search description still promises “…hot girls, nude girls, naked women in sexy pics and videos”, Hefner and his new CEO Scott Flanders hope to help the brand live on by spending less time on half-dressed ladies and more time slapping the Playboy label on consumer products.

The company went private in 2011, firing 75% of its staff, striking deals with top fashion companies “to try to reposition its brand as more aspirational” and even removing the seedier aspects of its content in order to get its “lifestyle tips” and content app featured in the iTunes store.

So how is it working? So far Playboy’s revenue totals remain lackluster–the magazine itself loses $6 million a year. But profits are up thanks to all those layoffs and new licensing initiatives. And the brand wants to stay sexy–in order to prepare for its 60th anniversary celebration later this year, the magazine’s editorial director decided to stop featuring women with fake breasts and brought in a “sexual anthropologist” to better design content for a generation that grew up on free Internet porn.

We can imagine fashion, liquor, nightlife and event planning companies gladly co-opting the Playboy name and logo. But will they pay the price for the privilege?

Will Playboy live on as a relevant brand, or will it just remind us of a simpler, more openly sexist past?