Book Review: Building Brand Value the Playboy Way

Marketing really fascinates me. The ability to get people to buy into your vision and what you are selling is something few people/companies pull off really well. The best way to equip yourself for this is to read about brands and their development. The Playboy story, narrated in this book, guides you through the brand being built to where it is today, along with key marketing principles they followed, and ignored. It walks you through the practical implementation of many concepts, which, if read in isolation are not as clear.

A core factor that led to the rise of Playboy in the 50’s, when it started, were the macro-economic conditions of the time. After the war, there was a burst in the population growth, along with higher sums of discretionary income available. However, at this time society was still reserved and topics such as sex were strictly taboo. Hugh Hefner saw this as an opportunity and built a magazine to address such topics. Being able to identify and provide for an under-served market niche is every entrepreneur’s goal! The only way to do this is to have your ears firmly plugged to the ground in an area that interests you. Hugh Hefner was able to do just this, and from the printing of his first magazine, he built a brand that is globally recognized today.

The book talks about Playboy’s brand extensions in much detail. Brand extensions such as Clubs, Casinos & Merchandise, enabled Playboy to reach their target audience and help them experience the brand at a much more personal level. This is another critical factor in building a brand, where your customers are engaged with what you have to offer. Someone who is extremely good at doing this is Apple. With their Macworld events etc, they are able to connect with their strongest brand promoters and share latest developments with them. A mistake Playboy made however, was that it extended it’s brand into far too many territories. This strongly diminished their positioning in the mind of the customer and lead to a downward slide of the brand in the 80’s & 90’s.

Another major component of the book deals with the importance of brand champions. Hugh Hefner is synonymous with the Playboy brand. He is their strongest marketing asset, very much like what Steve Jobs is to Apple. Without these central larger than life figures, the brand loses significant value. When Hugh Hefner got married in 89′ and removed himself from the spotlight, the brand suffered. Loyal fans were confused with the message that was being communicated by the brand’s iconic champion, and loyalty to the brand started to fade quickly. The book talks about some interesting ways to balance this situation, and how Playboy used them to avert this crisis.

The last point I found most interesting were the discussions on how the brand changed with time. In this last decade, the brand has had to explore online distribution strategies along with several acquisitions to retain it’s presence in the market. This aspect of the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in marketing, it shows how several of their fundamental marketing strategies remained constant, while tactics had to be adjusted to cope with the changing dynamics of the marketing place.

The book reads like a very long case study, and explains many key marketing fundamentals. It should be of help and benefit to those interested in marketing, and brand development.

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