Playboy’s ‘Covered-up’ Version a Perfect Strategy for Digital Era

The new ‘Playboy’ magazine has wonderful legacies to carry forward into the covered-up digital era.

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(Photo: <i>Playboy</i> magazine/<b>The Quint</b>)

It can happen now – a ‘Playboy India’. With its March 2016 issue Playboy has done away with nudity as its flag-bearer. Incidentally, the non-nude Playboy is targeting the 18 to 30 age group – not very different from The Quint, with its multi-media digital platform and content aimed at over a billion smartphone users.

As Playboy, over the years, alongside its many advertisers, took on the mantle of the pied-piper for the luxe set, the reader profile grew older, at an average of 45 years.

Now, like the James Bond franchise under the Broccoli family, there is a reset of focus on young people, the equivalent of the college freshmen of its early years. The revamped website has 16 million unique users with an average age of 30. Twenty percent of these are women.

Pamela Anderson on the cover of the latest and last nude issue of <i>Playboy (</i>Photo Courtesy<i>: Playboy)</i>
Pamela Anderson on the cover of the latest and last nude issue of Playboy (Photo Courtesy: Playboy)

The January/February issue of 2016 featured Pamela Anderson of Baywatch as the last nude in the Playboy saga; just as Marilyn Monroe was the first, back in December 1953, 62 years ago. Times have changed, the March cover picture seems to say.

The magazine has put Sarah McDaniel, a 20-year-old Snapchat and Instagram model, on the March cover. She has caught-in-the-head-lights eyes, in two different colours. They are natural to her, a phenomenon called heterochromia iridium. She appears with an arm outstretched outside the frame, suggesting the photograph is an impromptu selfie, even though it isn’t.

The magazine has put Sarah McDaniel, a 20-year-old Snapchat and Instagram model, on the March cover.&nbsp;(Photo Courtesy: <i>Playboy</i>)
The magazine has put Sarah McDaniel, a 20-year-old Snapchat and Instagram model, on the March cover. (Photo Courtesy: Playboy)

The new non-nudie Playboy was announced last October by the 89-year-old Hugh Hefner himself. The magazine’s present circulation is 800,000, respectable enough for a print magazine when most people just access their content on the Internet – either for free or a small subscription. But, back in 1972, Playboy did sell 7.2 million copies a month. Now, such numbers can only hope to be found on a digital format. Hence the shift in the Playboy’s strategy.

The erstwhile nudes, in all their plastic-surgeried, enhanced, airbrushed, glow-lit glory, are gone, for good. Today’s people get much raunchier fare plentifully on the Internet.

But, much of the essential Playboy DNA still resonates and has been retained. The March issue has the sex column being written by a woman for the first time. The overall vibe is that of a new erotic that is still committed to the Playboy rubric of progress, freedom and exploration. It features an interview with MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, who comments on the presidential elections, going through the primaries at present. Maddow apparently agreed to the interview only after being told the nudes were gone.

Other Playboy hallmarks, a piece on politics, an essay by the American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, an excerpt from another book, are all there.

This Playboy can be carried without embarrassment into the workplace or sit on drawing room coffee tables. The young target audience will see a new generation of advertisers too. The photography has always been a Playboy standard, projected not as art, but as a cross between advertising photography and photo-journalism. Now, it seeks to be more accessible and natural.

A photograph of Marilyn Monroe taken by Tom Kelley during a 1949 photo shoot that was later used by <i>Playboy</i> magazine. (Photo: Reuters)
A photograph of Marilyn Monroe taken by Tom Kelley during a 1949 photo shoot that was later used by Playboy magazine. (Photo: Reuters)

The old roster of nudes is impressive, though. Starting with Marilyn Monroe in 1953, there was Anita Ekberg in 1956, Sophia Loren in 1957, Raquel Welch in December 1979, Nastassia Kinski in May 1983, Madonna in September 1985, Farrah Fawcett in December 1995, Naomi Campbell in December 1999 – to name just a few beautiful women who graced the magazine.

Playboy has been an institution, shaping lifestyles, defining sophistication, selling the sports car over the family sedan. It always maintained its edge, promoting art and artists such as Salvador Dali, Frederico Fellini, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol, all of whom presented erotic works to be published and brought before a huge audience.

Salvador Dali during a <i>Playboy</i> shoot. (Photo Courtesy: <i>Playboy</i>)
Salvador Dali during a Playboy shoot. (Photo Courtesy: Playboy)

There were legendary photographers who worked with the centrefold models and created highly imaginative and technically proficient photographs – Richard Fegley, Pompeo Posar, David Chan.

There were fabulous artwork cartoons by great graphic artists such as Shel Silverstein, John Dempsey, Jules Feiffer, Phil Interlandi, Gahan Wilson; each with their distinctive style.

The Playboy pages had many landmark and in-depth celebrity interviews, articles, and book excerpts. And the whole package was presented to the highest printing and quality standards. These are wonderful legacies to carry forward into the covered-up digital era.

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser)

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