Saturday, February 18, 2017

Who Could Have Predicted? PLAYBOY Reverts To Original Form (In A Way)

Recall that 14 months ago I questioned the wisdom of PLAYBOY changing to a no nudes format, and I asked: "Is Hugh Hefner part of this ill-informed decision? Did he agree to bastardize his own "child"?  What drove this wacky decision and how will it play out?

I then compared the whacky decision to the one for New Coke:

 "One need only look at the "New Coke" fiasco from 30 -odd years ago when Coke - bummed by lethargic sales - decided to go to a new formula for its flagship drink.  In an article on it, Wikipedia notes:

"New Coke was the unofficial popular name for the reformulation of Coca-Cola introduced in the spring of 1985 by The Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola (also called Coke). New Coke originally had no separate name of its own, but was simply known as "the new taste of Coca-Cola" until 1992 when it was renamed Coca-Cola II.
Coca-Cola's market share had been steadily losing ground to Pepsi and the company suspected that consumers preferred the latter's sweeter taste, which they confirmed via numerous blind taste tests. However, the American public's reaction to the change was negative, even hostile, and the new cola was a major marketing failure. The subsequent reintroduction less than three months later of Coke's original formula, re-branded as "Coca-Cola Classic", resulted in a significant gain in sales" 

In other words, the company was forced to eat humble pie three months later, because its sales were plummeting. The same will happen to PLAYBOY. The lesson, which they ought to have learned, is you do not mess with or change an expected formula. It doesn't matter if their sales -subscriptions have gone down to 800,000 from a million 2 years ago."

It turns out that  in fall 2015, then-Playboy CEO Scott Flanders announced that the magazine would no longer publish nude photoshoots of women. The PR pushed was peddled by  Cory Jones, chief content officer of Playboy, told the New York Times that the nudity-free makeover was meant to make the magazine “a little more accessible, a little more intimate.”

Now, we learn only in the past week that's been shot down by none other than Hef's son, Cooper. who  sat down for an interview with Business Insider and slammed Playboy magazine's CEO Scott Flanders for the dummy decision.  Cooper, 24, who once titled himself as a former domestic and international "brand ambassador"  for Playboy Enterprises, added that Flanders  has been ousted from board meetings since expressing his disagreement with certain editorial decisions, including the nudity ban.

In Cooper's own words (ibid.):

"I've taken a massive step back with Playboy. Just due to that fact that I do not agree with the decisions and direction the company is actually going in, I was essentially asked to no longer participate in the board meetings because I didn't agree with his vision for the company. You either sort of take a step back and say, ‘Ok, I'm going to let this happen' or you try and do something about it."

This is a good move. given as I noted in my original post about the change that informal online polls at the time ( of male readers) by the Atlanta Journal & Constitution showed that nearly 8 in 10 would rather cancel their PLAYBOY subscriptions than continue for a magazine that opts to dilute its content in order to appease online "platforms". Most of those online connections, including the PLAYBOY web site, attract Millennials of average age 30 who are not so into nude females. They want them partially dressed as in MAXIM.

I also pointed out the importance of identity and how the magazine - having lost its basic format- became almost unrecognizable. Sure it had the Interview, and timely articles, but the special seasonal features (e.g. "Girls of the Big Ten" etc.) had vanished.  One also beheld a much diluted Forum as well as Letters and Playboy Advisor sections.

The problem has been that the older demographic that reads the print PLAYBOY, is accustomed to seeing it in a certain format, content arrangement and frankly grew perplexed and irritated when it was ditched to appease MAXIM readers. Like the New Coke fiasco, Playboy suffered its own - which I classify as an unforced error..  The authors of the Wiki article again:

"New Coke was only on the market in the United States for a short period, but it remains influential as a cautionary tale against tampering too extensively with a well-established and successful brand"

 The argument by some in the PLAYBOY empire that "there is already a glut of porn online so PLAYBOY doesn't need to duplicate it" , also doesn't hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, nude centerfolds identified PLAYBOY long before there was an internet. In addition, the aspect that has distinguished all PLAYBOY nudes is their quality and class.  By contrast, most online porn is precisely lacking in class, the very opposite of what PLAYBOY embodies. So the dictum that "it's already there" is basically telling existing PLAYBOY subscribers not to embrace PLAYBOY's soft porn imagery any more ...but "go for the gutter."

Anyway, PLAYBOY readers who of the older sort who do return will now be curious to see if Cooper really does return to something of the original mag. If not, and it's all a PR move, don't look for sales to increase anytime soon.

Granted PLAYBOY's changing content isn't up there with the top political news- like Trump's implosions (including exposing security documents to high rollers at Mar-a Lago) and Michael  Flynn outed as a Russkie covert contact and colluder. But even political junkies and readers need a break from heavy news every now and then!

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