Playboy is on a mission to spread its famous bunny logo across the digital universe.
The company has already dropped thousands of Playboy NFTs featuring bunny avatars, launched a digital social platform called Centerfold and has plans to build a new Playboy Mansion in the metaverse.
These plans for the future are taking place while an A&E documentary focuses on the company’s unflattering past. “Secrets of Playboy” is a10-part series making headlines by featuring former employees, playmates and past girlfriends of the company’s founder Hugh Hefner, alleging Playboy had a dark side.
Even before the series’ debuted in late January, Playboy’s leadership posted an open letter to its website noting, “today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy.”
Almost five years after Hefner’s death and two years since the company shut down its legacy print magazine, the company’s leadership team is trying to push Playboy into the future. The challenge: staging the legacy brand’s digital reinvention for the next wave of internet innovation, which technologists call web3.
“The magazine was one product of the company. But it was really that rabbit head that’s worth billions and billions of dollars and not replicable,” Playboy CEO Ben Kohn told CNBC in a recent interview.
While the brand drives billions in consumer spending worldwide, much of it through licensed products sold overseas. Kohn said that business model is broken and the company is making changes.
The CEO’s fixes rely heavily on a not-so-secret weapon: the company’s world famous bow-tie-wearing rabbit.
“When you think about what this brand represents, from a marketing perspective, from an awareness perspective, we pretty much have 100% awareness everywhere in the world,” he said.
The CEO has been creative about leveraging that “inherent value” in the digital world. Case in point: a Playboy SEC filing from last year shows the company paid $12 million to purchase a Bombardier Global Express BD-700 so Kohn could unleash that billion-dollar bunny logo across not just the sky, but also the internet.
The plane is an homage to the black-painted DC-9, known as the Big Bunny, flown by Hugh Hefner in the 70’s. The Global Express, which started off white, was gut renovated before re-emerging five month’s later with a sleek all-black body emblazoned with bunny logos and the same tail number used on its predecessor that whisked Hefner, celebrities and an entourage of Playboy bunnies around the world.
Unlike Hefner’s plane, there are no scantily-clad Playboy bunnies or a waterbed on this ride. The luxe new jet does include a pop-up bar and digital disco balls, but you have to look past all that for Kohn’s vision to come into focus. He told CNBC the expenditure for the jet was less about air travel and more about the powerful tail-wind it creates for e-commerce, social influence and marketing.
“This is a way for us to work with influencers and celebrities on a global basis, in a collaborative way,” he said.
Back in December, on one of its earliest flights the plane shuttled rapper Cardi B from New York to Art Basel in Miami. That take-off coincided with the announcement of her hew role as Playboy’s creative director in residency and the company’s launch of a new travel-themed line of apparel and accessories inspired by the the relaunch of the Big Bunny jet.
Offerings include a $950 cashmere blanket with the jet’s tail number: N95OPB printed across it and a $350 leather safari jacket that matches the distinctive leather upholstered walls in the jet’s lavatory, all of it exclusively sold online. For Kohn the $12 million jet is a plane a flying billboard, retail store and when influencers are onboard its a megaphone for the brand on social media.
On her flight from New York to Miami Cardi B created two Instagram posts that racked up almost 9 million views. Playboy’s counting on the rapper’s influence over her 123 million Instagram followers to help bring eyeballs to its brand and its newly launched venture: Centerfold. The company describes it as a new digital platform “for creative freedom, artistic expression, & sex positivity.”
Users pay fees to subscribe to a creators content and the creator splits that revenue with Playboy. It puts the company in direct competition with OnlyFans, an online subscription platform known for featuring many creators who produce sexually explicit content.
In October, Kohn reunited the brand with actress and model Pamela Anderson, who was featured on thirteen Playboy covers dating back to 1989. Her latest role: helping promote Playboy’s first giant NFT drop.
The company unleashed a slew of rabbit avatars called Rabbitars. The 11,953 original digital artworks depict cartoon-like bunny characters that are sold on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace. The company says the Rabbitar NFTs also unlock exclusive offers, giveaways and metaverse experiences. This spring, the digital bunny drop will be followed by a Rabbitar themed merch drop, and that’s just the beginning. Archival photos of David Bowie from 1976, a Playboy bunny on water skis from 1970 and a Playboy cover from April of 1973 have already been turned into NFTs.
“We have 10 million pieces of content in our archive that we can also drop as NFT’s moving forward,” Kohnsaid.
The CEO also has plans to bring back the Playboy Mansion, this time in digital form.
“I look at it coming back first in the metaverse because I think we can reach a global audience through that it will be part of our membership plan,” Kohn said. “And then I can see a world down the road where we have physical mansions as well.”
While Playboy has thrown parties in Decentraland, one of the most popular virtual worlds, but has yet to choose a site for its metaverse mansion.
“As we move into 2022, we’ll begin with Playboy membership and members will have a whole host of benefits moving forward and a lot of our membership will be based on blockchain,” Kohn said.
While Kohn looks toward the future, the release of the 10-hour-long “Secrets of Playboy” last month forces the company to publicly acknowledge its past. Playboy’s leadership didn’t even wait for the series to premiere before responding in an open letter supporting those who came forward to talk about their experiences in the world of Playboy.
“As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable,” the letter said.
Kohn tells CNBC under his leadership Playboy has come a long way and can now boast that 80% of its employees are women.
“And I think that’s a great sign for where the company’s moving going forward,” Kohn said.
He also points to a dramatic shift in consumer demographics as a sign of a new chapter at Playboy.
“If you look at the average age of our audience, right, 75% of them are under 34. Today, over 50% of our sales are to women, that is a dramatically different company than where we were four years ago,” he said.