Hef has croaked but will the bunny keep hopping?
Whether you view Hugh Hefner as a lecherous pornographer or cultural pioneer, one things for sure, he certainly left his mark on this world. The men’s magazine publisher started his career as a copywriter for Esquire, but left in 1952 after being denied a $5 raise. He started Playboy shortly after with the first December 1953 issue selling out in weeks, at 50 cents a copy. Since then, Playboy has gone on to become a multi-millions dollar empire that has massively influenced the scope of culture, journalism, and sexuality as we know it today.
“According to its own research, Playboy's logo is one of the most recognisable in the world, along with those of Apple and Nike.”
The New York Times
One element that played a significant role in the company’s legacy is of course the infamous Playboy rabbit or 'bunny' logo which has earned design icon status. The logo was designed by the company’s first art director, Art Paul. He reportedly created the design in under 10 minutes (something that makes our own director's ears stand up!). As reported recently by The New York Times “according to its own research, Playboy's logo is one of the most recognisable in the world, along with those of Apple and Nike.”
While you might not notice the logo at first glance on any given Playboy magazine, it is indeed there. An ongoing joke for the Playboy staff was to hide the logo somewhere on the cover of each magazine and it was a tradition that stuck.
“It’s fantastic in how consistent it’s remained, and how telegraphic it is,” says Debbie Millman, co-founder and chair of the Masters in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts. “It’s a silly little drawing of a rabbit that holds a metaphor. And that metaphor is this rabbit that harks back to the sexual connotation of being playful. It’s done in a witty way that’s warmed itself into our hearts and minds. And this metaphor has lasted 60 years. There are very few logos that do that.”
Ironically, Playboy has done away with full nudity in an effort to rebrand its empire. Today’s political and sexual climate is a far cry from that of 1956. Today, nudity is only simply one click away rather than hiding under the bed. The business model that made Hefner a pioneer is now obsolete and the publication has been buried by the very culture it created. It’s new business model will concentrate on in-depth journalism and high-end photography.
Although it begs to be seen whether this new gamble will pay off, protecting the logo has now become hugely important. The company now makes most of its money from licensing its ubiquitous brand and logo across the world — 40 percent of that business is in China even though the magazine is not available there — for bath products, fragrances, clothing, liquor and jewelery among other merchandise. In fact, the rabbit can be found on almost anything that can be printed, serving as a testament to just how much commercial good a great logo can do for a business.
Global magazine ranked Playboy at 42nd on a list of the top 150 global licensors. All this business can be traced to the lifestyle associated with the logo and the brand. Not bad for a 10 minute job!
With the recent passing of Hugh Hefner, there's no doubt that the brand is entering a challenging period. It will be interesting to see what direction the bunny hops or indeed if it can survive without it's creator.
Philip Mitton, Designer