Hugh Hefner (1926-2017): All Work, No Play

Hefner’s now iconic Playboy magazine launched in the early 1950s tackled the puritanical American society head-on

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Sep 29, 2017 7:23 AM
Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner, founder of the legendary Playboy magazine and media and entertainment maverick, died on Thursday morning, aged 91.

Hefner’s now iconic Playboy magazine, launched in the early 1950s, tackled the puritanical American society head-on. Brand Playboy repositioned men’s lifestyle magazines and became a notable brand over the years. “The Playboy brand is among the world’s most recognized brands and the creditable shift that the brand was able to do is from being synonymous with porn to implying ‘good lifestyle’ has been significant,” said N Chandramouli, brand guru and CEO, Trust Research Advisory.

Playing the Game

The magazine’s edgy content strategy targeted the upwardly mobile man offering him not just center-spreads he could ogle at but also high-quality content to engage readers. The magazine published interviews with eminent people such as Jimmy Carter, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Malcolm X, and short-stories by leading writers Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. “The magazine had and continues to have an ultra-liberal outlook. While the centerspread was the main attraction, it featured good journalism with many liberal views expressed, liberals being interviewed and short stories being published. It gave the brand a larger meaning beyond just nudity,” added Chandramouli.

Magazines for men were targeted at macho, outdoorsy men, until Hefner came along and created a magazine for the cosmopolitan man, the urbane male, with copious servings of overt sexual content.
Hefner launched Playboy in 1953 with $8,000 he raised from 45 investors (including $2,000 from his mother and brother). He placed a nude picture of Marilyn Monroe, which he bought the rights for with $500, in the centerfold of the magazine. Not surprisingly, the first issue quickly sold more than 50,000 copies, and Playboy became an instant sensation.

An Inspiration

His work has inspired people to take the chance, do something risky and live their dream. Hefner’s immortal words : ‘Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream’ took over the Playboy website on Thursday as fans, friends, and family mourned the loss of The Original Playboy. His attitude was infectious and inspired many. “Hefner defined guts and glamour. He was a pioneer and brought fresh thinking socially and culturally. He advocated free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. You could love him or hate him... but you could not ignore him,” said Manan Kotak, Partner and Digital Head at Chitralekha.

Playboy Potion

Chandramouli felt that if you take the nudity connotation away from the magazine, Playboy does have lessons that publishers can learn from. “Stick to your belief: Any publisher is bound to have counter-opinion all the time, and sometimes the going may be so tough that often the publisher may contemplate backing down. However, the stronger the publisher’s stance, the core reader/viewer will strengthen their bond with the media with every such cross of swords,” he said.

Playboy may have had its attention-grabbing content that raked in the moolah, but that’s not all that publishers should focus on, Chandramouli said. He said attention-grabbers get more readers which in turn give revenues. “Make sure that as a publisher you are making money – and in case you don’t make the money, adapt.” And finally, don’t be coy about marketing. Playboy has branded itself on clothing, perfumery, activewear, casualwear and retains very high recall and interest. “Don’t be shy to use all avenues of marketing as much as you can to get the word out about yourself.”

Hefner will be buried at a mausoleum next to Marilyn Monroe, the site which he bought for $ 75,000 in 1992. Speaking about his grave site, Hefner had reportedly said, “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.”


Tributes poured in for Hefner on Twitter from across the world. While some remembered Hefner fondly, others used humour to cope with his loss.

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