The backdrop of the event was the 60th anniversary of the storied men's magazine, which grew from a scrappy Chicago start-up to a multimedia giant and one of the world's most iconic brands. Playboy Senior VP and Publisher John Lumpkin kicked off the event by talking about how his editorial team has undertaken a major rethinking of Playboy focused on creating a "coffee table-worthy" package each issue that connects with the magazine's aspirational roots.
"Where we've seen our success as we've repositioned Playboy in North America over the past 18 to 24 months," said Mr. Lumpkin, "has really been going back to our heritage as a brand: the Playboy lifestyle." He also spoke of how men are looking for new role models—new models for living the good life—and that "peer groups are no longer dictated by graduating class" as men's friendships now tend to cross generational as well as gender boundaries.
The search for role models even seems to transcend the limits of time and space, judging from the success of the History Channel's "Vikings," recently renewed for a second season. In a fireside chat, creator/writer/showrunner Michael Hirst spoke of how the drama -- a breakout hit for the male-skewing cable network -- has connected to the Zeitgeist because of enduring fascination with the hyper-masculine society of fearless warriors. But he also noted that Viking culture was deeply nuanced in the way its members dealt with spirituality, codes of conduct and honor, which makes the series' storylines surprisingly resonant with modern-day males who grapple with the same issues.
Panels throughout the afternoon dived into the specifics of reaching men across media niches. Jeff Gregor, CMO of TNT and TBS as well as general manager of TCM, spoke with Bill Bergofin, senior VP-marketing of NBC Sports in the Entertainment Marketing to Men session. Melissa Parish, principal analyst and research director at Forrester, offered insights into the latest behavioral research in her New Trends for Reaching Men presentation; for instance, she noted that although smartphone ownership is pretty evenly divided between males and females, Forrester data shows that "Men are using their smartphones more, using them in more interesting ways, and in more physical locations."
Jimmy Jellinek, Playboy's editorial director, was joined by Lee Nadler, marketing communications manager at MINI USA, and Derek Brown, senior VP-marketing at COTY Beauty US, in a session titled The Image of the New American Male. The panelists debated Mr. Jellinek's observation regarding the social-media-enabled "fragmentation of male culture—the idea that there is not a monolithic male consumer," and how that reality factors into media plans.
Joe Torpey, Jaguar North America Communications Manager, spoke of how the legendary car company has been evolving and modernizing its offerings, particularly with its new F-type convertible, in the process reaching a younger male demo. And Brian Berger, founder-CEO of Mack Weldon, was joined by Jeff Raider, co-founder of Warby Parker and Harry's; Douglas Bensadoun, creative director of VP-marketing at Aldo; and Brad Lande, VP-marketing at Birchbox Man, in a panel that examined the Shopping Habits of the New American Male.
Closing out the event, Cooper Hefner, the 22-year-old son of legendary Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, spoke about how "getting into the family business was an interesting road, to say the least." In deciding if he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as he entered college, Mr. Hefner said that he poured over his father's meticulously kept scrapbooks—some 2,500 volumes of correspondence, photographs and other historic materials from the Playboy archives.
"I was simply blown away by what I found," said Mr. Hefner. He came across photos of John Lennon, Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger at the Playboy Mansion, and read letters to his dad from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Ronald Reagan, opening his eyes to the extent to which Playboy had intersected with modern cultural and political history.
Revisiting Playboy's past, said Mr. Hefner, clinched his decision to help move the Playboy brand into the future: "Re-introducing a rabbit that stood for something more—stood for something important—became my goal."