A buyer on why no nudes was bad news for Playboy
Eliminating pictures was more about wooing readers than editorial vision
March 14, 2017
Playboy quickly reversed its decision to eliminate nude photos from its magazine, bringing back the naked centerfold and more just months after claiming the practice had been rendered outdated by the internet. Buyers smirked a bit when this happened. They’d felt all along that Playboy’s decision was the wrong one, largely because it lost the thing that made it stand out in a crowded, and struggling, men’s field. Carol Pais Hammond, director of print buying at Fallon, talks to Media Life about why Playboy ultimately went back on the no-nudes policy, whether it was the right decision, and how the men’s magazine category generally is holding up.
What do you think of Playboy’s decision to add nude photos to the magazine once again?
Ultimately, magazines have to operate within a business model that creates sustainable revenue. They need to maintain both circulation and ad revenue in order to do this, and changing, evolving and finessing the editorial content is a critical part of this process.
If consumer interest is flagging, making it difficult to maintain circulation, and/or advertisers are scarce, then part of the remedy will naturally involve a critical look at the editorial content itself.
When they eliminated them before, they called the nudity concept outdated and noted that it’s available readily on the internet. What changed?
It’s not the environment or outside factors that changed.
Nudity is still readily available on the internet, and I think stating that the concept itself was outdated was simply a justification for changing an editorial premise that had existed for a long time.
The subtext was always that the print landscape was changing—meaning how people consume print as a medium, what kind of content they want to access in that form, etc.
Therefore, I read the decision to eliminate the nude photos as less about the nudity itself and more about trying to anticipate what would ultimately resonate more with both consumers and advertisers, in this new, evolving landscape.
From an advertising perspective, was eliminating the nudes a good or bad decision?
In fairness, I do think print tends to lend itself to an optimal delivery vehicle for longer-form journalism, so in that respect, a focus on the articles versus photos does make some sense.
But again, it’s a part of that process of determining what formula works best to sustain revenue.
Did Playboy see any advertising benefit from eliminating the nudes? How did they change their pitch to buyers?
I’m sure the intent was to be able to appeal to a wider net of potential advertisers, but I think that this falls into the category of “putting the cart before the horse.”
If the circulation and consumer interest is robust, then advertisers tend to follow. Removing the nude photos doesn’t feel like a move made to affect or improve consumer interest; it feels more like a direct appeal to advertisers.
However, I don’t think you can do one without the other.
With nudes, is it easier for Playboy to differentiate itself from the competition? Why or why not?
Only in the most literal of senses, and not in any capacity that would make a true difference long term. It’s one element of an overall editorial cocktail, and the editorial platform of any magazine can’t survive by relying on only one element.
It is the combination of all the editorial components that can make or break a magazine’s success. If the photos were the only thing that mattered, then, to your earlier point, there are a million other places to access content like that, and faster.
How would you describe the health of the men’s magazine category generally these days?
Struggling, as with many categories. The men’s category is not alone in this.
Are there any brands you think are making the right moves in digital that buyers should be keeping an eye on?
It’s hard to be predictive about any particular brand in this volatile, constantly shifting media landscape. The paradigm of magazine consumption has irrevocably shifted, and there’s no point in publishers trying to recapture readers in the same way that they did in the past. Media consumption habits have fundamentally changed, and will continue to change, especially in keeping pace with technology.
I think that brands that are successful—and will continue to be successful—have eliminated any inflexible silos containing print, digital, mobile, activations, etc.
Rather, they are first and foremost brand-focused, and their respective offering, regardless of medium, remains fluid in order to be nimble enough to chase consumers wherever they are receptive to their content.
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