Unsure if Playboy’s Latest Sales Promo is a Golden Ticket from Shrinking Subs

I’m really curious to see how the latest promotion for Playboy magazine shakes out.  Just in case you live in a cave and don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll enlighten you, and won’t subject you to the same cliched Willy Wonka comparisons that every other media outlet has made.  Playboy kicked off a “golden ticket” promotion last week whereby newsstand copies of the magazine will potentially include one of ten golden tickets that entitle the reader to attend Hugh Hefner’s Midsummer Night’s Dream party at the Playboy Mansion in addition to other prizes. 

It’s no surprise that sales of the magazine have slumped in recent years, following the trends of the print publication market in general.  Figures from August 2010 indicate that sales of Playboy are off 34% when compared to just a year ago.  Truth be told, the average teen has probably sexted something more explicit than anything that’s ever been in the pages of Playboy.  Also, the wealth of free online porn that exists these days, so I’ve been told ;), severely limits the magazine’s possibilites of filling a void in this space.

This is what makes the latest golden ticket marketing push all the more intriguing.  It’ll be cool to see if this produces any longer term gains, or, just short term buzz and newsstand sell outs.  In doing a web search, a few Twitter feeds report that local copies are sold out in various places around the country.   This is interesting, as it could enhance this marketing effort by boosting perceived scarcity, which, as we all know as consumers, the fewer of something that exists, the more we want it.  Online, there is also a cool “countdown” map that will be filled with push pins as golden tickets are discovered.  I like this site as well, as it engages and gives consumers the perception that “there’s still a chance” to win.  Everybody loves a good challenge.  I do wonder if discovered tickets will have a delay in being reported on the site to keep the momentum going for awhile.

From a marketing perspective, this promotion may be a good short term shot in the arm, but I question whether it will grow any sustainable subscriber growth.  It may be better for the magazine, which relatively recently went through a refresh of its look without changing much content too drastically, as Mr. Hefner is a creature of habit, to refocus on attracting a younger demographic in other ways.

For example, the true dirty little secret about Playboy is that it’s legitimately a good publication that offers quality content.  As a subscriber, one may perceive my opinion as biased, but read on, please and get over the old “I read it for the articles” stereotypes.  The magazine offers great fiction from the likes of Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, and still runs exclusive short fiction pieces from them, along with interviews with celebrities and people in the current spotlight.  Additionally, opinions presented in the magazine’s “Forum,” from the legalization of marijuana to censorship are featured monthly.  I recall grad school marketing coursework where some of these articles were cited as legitimate sources.  Further, most college libraries have subscriptions of Playboy presumably because there is information of value within its pages versus, say “Hustler” or “Swank” which don’t provide quite as much depth of content….though they are respectable publications in their own right…wink wink nudge nudge.

In reading some of the mags to which my wife subscribes, I was hard pressed to find much content of substance and more ads than anything else.

The recent documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel further substantiates the depth of the brand beyond the magazines dwindling sales and further supports marketing efforts that will enhance the brand and consumer preferences longer term, beyond a golden ticket.  I won’t get into a detailed breakdown here, hence the link, but the documentary provides a glimpse of how the magazine helped to spark efforts in support of everything from civil rights to humanitarian aid.  A marketing vehicle in of itself, I’m curious as to whether it will open up new markets to help the magazine, either in print or digital format.  Whether it’s women, civil rights activists, or younger Gen Xers or Gen Yers who tend to have greater philanthropic interests in general, it could help grow the market.

It would be interesting to see Playboy go after younger, educated consumers (male and female) from a literary or “source of topical information that’s still somewhat taboo in mainstream media” perspective.  While the golden ticket will undoubtedly drive a bit more buzz on Twitter, in print, and on TV, few will probably remember it in the coming months.  Further, running more pictorials of Kendra or Pam Anderson or similar generates a ho-hum amongst younger readers who are out there these days.  Presenting more on the other content that’s part of the overall mag, like interviews with controversial subject like Cornel West or Pee Wee Herman, could help drive interest more sustainably.

As an aside, when I opened this month’s issue, there was no golden ticket for me.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that Hef will read my post and send it to me.  I’m sure it was an unintentional oversight 🙂


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