The No-Nudity Playboy Is Doing Well With Advertisers, So Far

Magazine's March Issue Sports 55.5% More Ad Pages

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The outside back cover gatefold in Playboy's March issue.
The outside back cover gatefold in Playboy's March issue. Credit: Courtesy Stoli Vodka

As Playboy CEO Scott Flanders tells it, Playboy didn't drop full-frontal nudity because it wanted to appeal to more advertisers. But Mr. Flanders is certainly happy to see that brands are getting behind the new and improved Playboy, now on newsstands.

"The early indications seem quite positive," Mr. Flanders said. Ad pages in the March issue increased 55.5% year-over-year, to just under 42, according to numbers submitted to MPA-The Association of Magazine Media.

Playboy made waves back in October when it announced that it would move away from full-frontal nudity as part of a larger redesign aimed at appealing to more millennial men.

Brands that got an early look at the March issue have been impressed and have committed to advertising in future ones, according to Mr. Flanders. "I thought advertisers might need to see three or four issues before they'd be comfortable that we were very serious with this commitment," he said.

Sensing that the magazine's first non-nude issue would be a "collector's edition," Stoli Vodka, a longtime Playboy advertiser, jumped at the chance to be part of the March issue in a big way.

"We believered it was really, really important for us to have a significant presence," Stoli Brand Director Russell Pareti said.

Stoli also saw a kindred brand spirit in Playboy. "This change for them, to ... cast a wider net with a wider audience, was a really great fit for what we're also looking to do in terms of our consumer target," Mr. Pareti said. "Millennials are also a big part of our recruitment strategy."

Stoli opted for a premium, gatefold advertising spot in the back of the book, designed by The Martin Agency. Its ads allude to Playboy's new no-nudity policy with lines like "Here's to leaving just a little to the imagination."

The goal was to show "a little wit and humor" while also nodding to Playboy's decision "to shake things up," said creative director Neel Williams, VP-creative director at The Martin Agency. "Creatively, from a messaging standpoint, we certainly wanted to applaud that decision and be supportive of it, as a like-minded brand," he said.

One question is how much momentum the brand continues to hold with advertisers after the new look becomes familiar. Magazine ad pages in general have suffered as competition from digital media grew.

Perhaps the most symbolic ad buy for the March issue came from Dodge, which became the first Detroit auto manufacturer to advertise in the magazine in nearly 25 years, according to Playboy.

"It's a great calling card for us," Mr. Flanders said of Dodge's placement in the front of the book. "To me, on its face, it says that we are acceptable to mainstream consumer products brands."

"The advertisers that we've had in the past have wanted to borrow our edginess," he said.

Mr. Flanders was also a big fan of the creative. "It's about as interesting as anything in the magazine," he said.

Newsstand sales make up less than 10% of Playboy's circulation, Mr. Flanders said, but he was proud to note that some 1,200 additional newsstands are carrying the March issue.

Playboy is also getting a more prominent placement in stores, no longer relegated to the adults-only racks and no longer cloaked in polybags. Mr. Flanders said the magazine's distributor told stores that they had no choice but to move it to "the main line," with more mainstream titles. None refused, he said.