Sex is the driving force on the planet. We should embrace it, not see it as the enemy.—Hugh Hefner
“Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex.”
I have always chuckled a little bit at that line from an ad for a major erectile dysfunction medication. I’ve also heard apocryphal stories about Hef keeping a bowl of the little blue pills by his bed. I rather doubt that story is completely true, but the man is now 89. I think we can give him a bit of a break on the subject. I still find it humorous that an amorous individual might need to check with their physician, calling the poor guy in the middle of dinner, with, “Hey Doc, the wife didn’t burn the roast tonight. Ya’ think it’s safe for me to hump her?”
Realistically, though, sex can take a lot of heart, especially when it’s more than a physical act but rather a primary driver of one’s business. Publishing a magazine where sex is the primary motivator is far from being a romp in the park, despite the fact that Hef managed to make it look that way. Playboy® was never about page after page of increasingly raunchy photos, but about a lifestyle in which sex wasn’t something hidden or repressed as it seemed to be in other publications. Hef once said:
I have very strong theories about magazine publishing. And I think that it is the most personal form of journalism. And I think that a magazine is an old friend.
Hugh Hefner, when he started the magazine in 1953, had a heart for sex that wasn’t all that different from some of his contemporaries in the research fields, such as Masters and Johnson or Alfred Kinsey. The post-war period of the late 1940s and 50s took the cover off sex and sexuality that led to the sexual revolution of the 60s. There was a desire to understand and appreciate and experience sex in ways that extended far beyond the physical act. For all the criticism he received, the content mix Hef brought to his magazine perfectly reflected a heart for sex that fueled a revolution.
If Playboy continues to stumble, it may well be because its current leadership fails to have that heart for sex that Hef has. Current CEO Scott Flanders, who interestingly enough is an Indianapolis native, His academic studies at the University of Colorado were in economics, not journalism, and from there he went on to law school. Prior to coming to Playboy, Flanders took a beleaguered Freedom Communications Company and managed it straight into bankruptcy in 2009, whereupon he left. He sees Playboy Enterprises, which he joined in 2011, as a brand management company, not a publisher.
Playboy’s chief content officer, Cory Jones, who had the unpleasant task of telling Hef the magazine was dropping nudes, is a digital strategist who is successful in generating high hit counts and unique views. While he does have some experience working with men’s titles, such as Maxim.com and mandatory.com, he has no relevant experience in print, which, as titles such as the New York Times and Vogue are discovering, cannot be managed in the same fashion as online publications. Jone’s attention is strictly on the numbers, using whatever form of pandering necessary to get there, as is evidenced at mandatory.com.
The people at the top of Playboy’s org chart simply do not have the heart for sex that Hef had when he founded the magazine and through the years that made it great. Without that emphasis, Playboy is set up to fail. Not everyone was meant to be a magazine publisher. Publishing what was once the nation’s leading men’s magazine reminds me of the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross song from the musical “Damn Yankees:” Ya’ gotta’ have heart, lots and lots and lots of heart.
Unfortunately, the people at the top of Playboy seem to be lacking that heart for sex. Perhaps the magazine could use a little blue pill of its own.