Almost everything that can be done in print, digital seems to be doing better and reaching a wider audience. This is probably what led Playboy to do away with featuring nude models across its centerfold. The centerfold pictorial spread, over the years, had become synonymous with the magazine. While Playboy had some wonderful content, the bunnies were the talking point people identified the title with. It was one of the important pegs that the magazine built its brand value on.
The call for tough action was made when the magazine’s circulation, over the years, dropped from millions to 800,000. The move to not feature nude models anymore may seem like a rather sudden step but it is anything but that. Playboy had phased out nudity last year on its digital versions and has reported quadrupling of traffic, while welcoming a wider audience demographic.
Closer home, Mid-Day Mate, a local phenomenon from the recent past was discontinued in 2011 in the Mid-Day daily. The section featured a skimpily clad model and offered the predominantly male reader some visual stimulation.
Tinaz Nooshian, executive editor, Mid-Day, weighed in on the daily discontinuing the section. “It had essentially served its purpose. There was a time when we didn’t have the kind of access to internet that we do today and we were also catering to predominantly male readers. The Mid-Day Mate made sense then.”
“…access to internet…”, Nooshian says, led the publication to rethink the existence of the section. With this in context, Scott Flander’s (CEO, Playboy) comment echoes Nooshian’s remark. Flanders’s said, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so, it’s just so passé at this juncture.”
Some quarters are debating whether this move by Playboy was right for the title. Others contend that the brand is being conscious of existing in a changing environment, and Playboy is starting to project an evolving image.
In the UK, The Sun was in the eye of a storm earlier this year. There were angry voices asking for the topless models in the title to be discontinued. Its page 3 became the talk of the nation this January when The Sun hinted that it planned to do away with the segment. It did but only briefly, and was at the receiving end with strong reactions about the U-turn. The publication attributed the changes to a ‘mammary lapse’. All this transpired within the same week.
Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia, said, “It (Playboy) did have its equity which was built up over time when internet wasn’t an option and wasn’t available. I guess they tried to stretch their brand as much as they could. But everything has a finite lifespan, every product, every idea. The lifespan of this product must be coming to an end.”
The changes in Playboy’s website have presented it with a relatively wider audience. This not just helps build audience numbers, but also eliminates some advertisers’ hesitation to associate with the ‘Gentleman’s’ brand. Similar was the case with Mid-Day Mate, at least in terms of the growing audience base.
Nooshian elaborated, “We decided to discontinue it as our audience was expanding. We had started to reach out to women, youth. So the Mid-Day Mate didn’t fit in with our philosophy. I don’t think in any case we were providing something novel with the section given the easy access to internet. It had served its purpose.”
Starting March 2016, Playboy will carry PG-13 rated images. The magazine remains undecided on whether the centerfold will remain a highlight. This makes space for a new kind of reader whose first attraction towards the magazine can no longer be the nude models. Nooshian noted, “I’m sure that their loyal readers are disappointed given that regular readers look forward to regular features that they’re fond of.”
“It (the readership) will depend on what is the new content. They may be able to attract new and different type of readers from what they earlier had,” surmised Bhasin.
(This article was first published in the 30 October issue of Campaign India)