With carriers in control of content, adult content has been largely shut out of the mobile content game in the most obvious way. Yet, without fanfare, Playboy has expanded its reach in mobile, in 50+ countries and well over 80 carriers.
Playboy Mobile took a much higher profile here with the April announcement about Miss Playboy Mobile. I spoke with Ed Lang, SVP and GM, Mobile and International Online, Playboy Enterprises and a veteran in the wireless industry, to find out how Playboy can both maintain its brand and meet the PG-13 requirements of the mobile platform.
MobilizedTV: How do you stay true to the Playboy brand in a mobile environment that restricts adult content?
LANG: We do have an interesting split in how we distribute our content. International strategy is different than U.S. strategy. Some countries are more conservative, the U.S. being one of the most conservative countries. Here, they only allow PG-13 content, which disallows even models modeling clothing in a particular way, anything at all sexually suggestive. A lot of territories in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, and the Middle East are also conservative. Europe is the most receptive to that content. They allow streaming XXX content in those territories. The bulk of adult business is in Europe.
How do you promote the Playboy brand in the U.S.?
We knew we needed to focus the brand into its more traditional and aspirational areas, which is the lifestyle side it’s been over the last 50 years, the lifestyle associated with someone who’d buy the Playboy magazine. We created a Playboy experience, with fashion and design elements.
That decision was made a couple of years ago and we initially weren’t leveraging the full breadth of the brand in our digital media. The company realized there were other areas to be competitive in in the mobile space, rather than being pigeon-holed. I realized the editorial voice of Playboy is so strong and we demonstrated the depth and breadth of the brand in the U.S., not just to consumers but to carriers. We felt we didn’t necessarily have to fall in the stereotype; there was no reason why we should accept the brand positioning being set by other people.
How did that position evolve?
About one year into my job we made the decision to go out to the direct-to-consumer market and prove that theory. Rather than direct carrier deals, we launched initiatives relating to consumers. Really, the greatest effort to demonstrate the lifestyle was to launch our model search. Other people had done similar things, so we had the benefit of looking at that and thinking of how we could differentiate ourselves. Last year, we launched an ambitious project around Miss Playboy Mobile, to find a non-nude contestant who would the crown winner.
We crowned her at the April CTIA Wireless conference. It was well attended and we demonstrated the ability to pull off a gender-friendly event with a viral component. It also went cross-platform, starting as mobile initiative and moving into social media on the computer.
That led to a partnership with mywaves. We’re expanding the strategy of syndicating our content with social media on the phone, so you’ll hear about more deals in this space. Mywaves is Playboy’s first ad-supported, mobile-content distribution deal to handle syndication of a content channel.
I understand you also came out with an iPhone version of your WAP site?
Yes, when the iPhone came out earlier this year, we launched a WAP site optimized for the iPhone that will leverage the 3G version of the phone. That will stay a one-off decision. I’m not interested in optimizing for multiple handsets. But there’s a “thing” happening around the iPhone and we didn’t want to be on the sidelines.
The iPhone site features an immersive experience including “Playboy-on-the-Scene” footage from lifestyle-based projects. iPlayboy contains mobile-specific features such as “Battle of the Sexiest,” “Playboy Radio,” and “Scout,” a blog on sex, dating, and other lifestyle topics. iPlayboy is an ad-supported site which will be upgraded continuously to include social/community involvement, a content storefront, and other feature introductions, integrating the iPhone experience with Playboy Mobile’s PC experience.
What have you learned from the Miss Playboy Mobile experience?
Our three-pronged approach is our mobile internet site; syndicating our content out to mobile social networks, and a yet-to-be-announced comprehensive messaging strategy. Basically, we’ve done enough deals with enough depth to do both free, ad-supported content and premium content, with every type of messaging solution you can have. This will be a big deal for us, because previously we’d only done short code. We’ll integrate messaging between how we syndicate our content out, our mobile site, and how we interact with it online and with social media. The idea being that every one of those places that people can interact with the brand, they’ll be one click away from our messaging strategy, which will lead you to discover everything in the network.
When do you expect to be able to monetize the mobile portion of the strategy?
We’re already making revenue from ad sales on the mobile site. When you monetize what we’re doing across product offerings, we think this will work from an ad-generating place alone. Each one of these three prongs will eventually have a premium area with an up-sale for more premium service or content. What Playboy is aspiring to do is deliver value. We’re in the process of coming up with unique content offerings that people haven’t seen before. We are trying to push the envelope by bringing out things that we believe haven’t been done in the past.
One example is that we recently decided to go into the mobile original content area and we have our first series we’re going to put out. The way we approached it is very different. We figured out how to integrate the divisions of the company, ranging from TV to the magazine and our sponsor ad partners. How we’re releasing it is also unique. We thought about integrated marketing. It won’t be video with a pre-roll or post-roll. We said, Let’s go for integrated marketing, product placement, just like TV, and that’s the elements we did.
To finish it off, we just announced that we’re in the planning stages of taking the Miss Playboy Mobile competition global. I have no less aspiration than attempting to pull off something that’s never been done before. We’re ambitious in the number of territories, the interactions, to integrate sponsors into the competition and the abilty to run it on online and mobile with a heavy social media element. We set our sights on the bigger campaigns and want to improve on it. We have localized partners that produce products and content for us: 26 local magazine publishers that publish local editions, TV stations that add to our broadcasts, digital partners who represent us in certain regions. Leveraging those partnerships allows us to customize and localize for the global Miss Playboy Mobile. Localized competitions feed into the regionalized and then ultimately global competition. There are sponsorship opportunities at each level and we continue to target both men and women. We look at top social media networks in all the different global regions and we’ll try to extend a widget or application to those, in the native language. It’s an ambitious project and the targeted time frame will be Q1 2009 with target party at CTIA Wireless in April.