Playboy Uncorks Wine Club

Iconic Men's Mag Brand Also Considering Selling Playboy Beer in Brazil

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The newest Playboy club is more about bouquets than bunnies.

Wine clubs are growing in popularity with consumers -- and with publications looking for new revenue sources.
Wine clubs are growing in popularity with consumers -- and with publications looking for new revenue sources.

In magazines' latest bid for new sources of revenue, the iconic men's brand is introducing a Playboy Wine Club that promises to offer aficionados exclusive selections from boutique vineyards around the world. The venture by Playboy Enterprises Inc. marks a further move by the company to bolster its licensing business in the face of declining circulation and follows moves by other media companies, such as the Wall Street Journal, to pursue branded wine clubs of their own.

Playboy has also offered Playboy-branded wines in the past, including Playboy wines in 2008 with labels featuring vintage Playboy covers, but hasn't backed a wine club before.

The clubs are a small but growing piece of the wine business. Direct-to-consumer shipments jumped about 10% in the year ending in July to $1.4 billion, representing 8.6% of the total wine retail market, said Jim Gordon, editor of Wines & Vines, citing stats from a forthcoming report by the trade pub and ShipCompliant, which processes wine shipments. Clubs backed by publications barely existed 10 years ago, he said. But they have grown in popularity because consumers trust that the publications will "pick out wines objectively and fairly that they are going to like because they understand the consumer," Mr. Gordon said.

Playboy is partnering with internet wine marketer Barclay's Wine on the club. Members, who can sign up for no cost, are offered packages such as the "Playboy Wine Encounter," which features quarterly case deliveries priced at $129 for 12 bottles. Because this is Playboy, some of the special offers are a little bit suggestive. There is the "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" deal, which includes "six sensual whites" from around the world, or the "Playboy Blind Date," which includes a surprise mix of wines.

But on the whole, the club is fairly tame, focused more on varietals than vixens. The only toy that comes with shipments is a free "Magic Decanter."

"The Playboy concept is approachable luxury and that 's kind of where we are heading with it," Robert Imeson, CEO of Barclay's, told Ad Age . "The new Playmate is the girl at the table not the girl on the table. We're not breaking rules, we are living beyond them. It's a much different concept than historically what people might think."

Playboy magazine lowered its guaranteed paid circulation from 1.5 million to 1.25 million earlier this year, although its newsstand sales in the first half increased 17.1% from the period a year earlier, counter to industry trends. Playboy Enterprises is looking increasingly to its licensing business, which is already worth about $1 billion globally, with Playboy products sold in 25,000 stores in 180 countries.

"We are pursuing business opportunities in categories that emulate the Playboy lifestyle," said Kristin Patrick, chief marketing officer of Playboy Enterprises. For instance, the company is in discussions to create a Playboy-branded beer in Brazil, she told Ad Age . The company is also exploring new digital initiatives, she noted, including gaming and a new e-commerce shop that she described as a "world of Playboy hub."

The company recently launched an e-book series compiling 50 of the magazine's most provocative interviews from the past 50 years.

For Barclay's, the partnership links the wine-seller to an iconic brand, whose subscribers skew more male than the subscriber base of Barclay's own wine club, which is roughly 60% female. Marketing will enlist Playboy properties such as the magazine and subscriber lists as well as some outside advertising.

To stay true to its brand, Playboy's club will focus on "cutting edge" wines with a sense of adventure, including sourcing some selections from places not typically associated with wines, Mr. Imeson said. For instance, selections will include a wine with the Saperavi grape from the Republic of Georgia, or wines from Walla Walla, Washington, he said.

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