At its peak, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises was valued at over $1 billion. It’s an iconic brand that’s stood the test of time (even through abysmal financial performance).
Playboy owns adult entertainment. It’s unlikely that any brand will touch upon it’s legacy. But I’ve got a secret for you: Playboy isn’t about sex, and Hefner didn’t use sex to build his mega-brand.
Then the question remains, why was Playboy so successful?
Capitalize on Your Customers’ Dreams
Playboy was all about fantasies. It captured its audience’s imaginations and brought them something that they wouldn’t normally experience. As a 2009 New York Times profile of Hefner puts it: Hefner cleaned sex up for a rising middle class.
Hefner gave the average Joe a chance to break away from the mundane and live a life free of worries and full of supermodels and luxury. That’s what the strongest brands do: they help their consumers realize a dream (big or small).
Sell an Experience, Not a Product
The reason Playboy grew so big in such a niche market is that it concentrated on the experience it sold, not a product (the magazine).
By the time the company went public in 1971, it offered book publishing, a limousine service, a record label, hotels, casinos, and more. In fact, it made most of its money on clubs and casinos, and TV now accounts for most of its revenue.
Playboy sold the fantasy experience. It sold…well, the Playboy experience. Even today, womanizing men who live in Hefner’s lavish lifestyle are called playboys.
Adapt or Die
In mid 2010, Playboy unveiled a web property called The Smoking Jacket (yes, it’s still active). They realized that the world was moving forward, and moved to cut it off.
(Bonus: Playboy hosted the first desegregated TV program – another sign of innovation and adaptation.)
Playboy even came out with a Facebook game in 2010. You can’t tell me that they’re not innovative?
Given the industry he’s in, Hefner get’s a lot of heat, but the fact is: he’s built a damn valuable brand in Playboy. He recognized that he was selling an experience, not a product, and that allowed him to create a company that has unlimited potential.