Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
28 September 2017
Hugh Hefner, Playboy and the understanding of brand
Sometimes, we did read the articles. Sometimes, that was the reason why we open a Playboy magazine. Sure, the nude pictures attract even the most prudish of us but Hugh Hefner understood his success depends on more than naked women.
Hefner dies at 91, living his life as an incarnation of the male gaze fantasy. I remember the models, and there was a perverse joy in finding who’s appearing unclothed inside the cover.
But the brand Hugh Hefner built was greater than that. It was an aspirational self-reflection for many American males in the 60s, 70s and for most of the 80s. (Playboy became irrelevant when the internet introduced porn.) Yes, it was misogynistic. And sometimes that self-reflection prompts a psychosis, such as the murder of Dorothy Stratten.
“Alex Haley interviews Martin Luther King. Playboy features Margaret Atwood (“A Handmaid’s Tale), Hunter S Thompson, Truman Capote, and Kurt Vonnegut writing articles and stories. It was cornucopia of male fantasy, intended for the mind, the heart and other regions.”
Hefner builds a brand reflecting an aspirational image
I’m not saying Playboy and Hefner didn’t unveil a dark side. They did. But, as a strategist, Hefner understood brand. Creating preference, the only reason to promote a brand, works when target audiences see themselves in the brand. Therefore, they are incapable of ignoring it. It’s like seeing a picture of yourself on a billboard as you drive by. How are you looking past that?
The vision of a harem plays a large role in it. But so was an appearance of sophistication. A sort of James Bond fantasy. The long-form interviews fascinate. Alex Haley interviews Martin Luther King. Playboy features Margaret Atwood (“A Handmaid’s Tale), Hunter S Thompson, Truman Capote, and Kurt Vonnegut writing articles and stories. It was cornucopia of male fantasy, intended for the mind, the heart and other regions.
Hugh Hefner was no saint, and his image creates as much discomfort as it does pleasure. But most brands should learn a thing or two from Hefner’s legacy. His branding reflects the aspirational image of the customer. It just so happens that was Hefner’s self-reflection too.
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