Playboy pitches advertisers on its nudity-free future

Playboy looked both backwards and forwards during its first NewFronts today, where it pitched advertisers on its plans for what CEO Scott Flanders described as “the new, multi-platform Playboy.”

Now, when I say “Playboy event,” you’ve probably got some preconceived ideas about what’s involved. Turns out, however, that it wasn’t all that different from plenty of other corporate digital media presentations, with lots of talk about branded content, millennials and “brand ambassadors.”

Which makes sense, since Playboy took nudes off its website in 2014, and the print magazine recently followed suit. (To be clear, it still includes pictures of attractive women, but now those pictures are a bit more safe for work.)

According to the Playboy executives who spoke onstage, the change has helped the website grow by 400 percent and also lowered the average age of the reader from 47 to 31 years old.

house of waris

In some ways, it seems like Playboy wants to be the next Vice — programs discussed at NewFronts included lots of documentaries and lifestyle programming aimed at the aforementioned millennials. For example, there’s Journalista, a documentary series from Yoonj Kim, and House of Waris, a dinner-and-discussion show hosted by Waris Ahluwalia with guests like actress Natasha Lyonne and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.

The company also announced that it’s forming a division called Playboy Studios, which will focus on creating marketing content for brands. (It seems like every media company needs its own content studio these days.)

But without the nude centerfolds for which the magazine was best known, what sets Playboy apart in 2016? Ahluwalia said Playboy aims to be a wingman of sorts, helping men navigate “living the good life.” He also said that the publication is defined by three broad principles — progress, freedom and exploration.

And the speakers consistently emphasized the idea that Playboy has had more to offer than sex appeal. After all, the magazine has published high-profile authors and interviewed noteworthy public figures throughout its history.

Playboy March 2016 Cover

Sex wasn’t completely absent from the presentations — sometimes it was mentioned playfully, like when Ahluwalia described branded content as “the proverbial aphrodisiac of marketing.” And sometimes it was more substantial, like in the upcoming Sex and Relationships Index that aims to “reboot Alfred Kinsey‘s work” and paint an updated picture of how millennials look at these issues.

Oh, and those brand ambassadors? They were actually Playboy Playmates, who stayed off-stage during the presentation but came out to mingle at the end.

And for all the challenges that Playboy faces in reinventing itself, Head of Branded Content Hugh Garvey noted that the publication still has 97 percent unaided global brand awareness — in other words, 97 percent of the global population knows what Playboy is.

“We wrote the story of the good life once, and now we’re doing it again,” he said.