During a conversation with me back in October, Playboy’s Ben Kohn — accompanied by the brand’s CMO, Rachel Webber — talked at length about how a lot of what’s passed for conventional wisdom about their nearly 70-year-old media and lifestyle brand reflects some basic misunderstandings. One of which is the tendency to start from the premise that this is a media-centric company, one that was until last year defined in many people’s eyes by the glossy print magazine it published. To be sure, it was an era-defining magazine, one with centerfolds on the cover and editorial content inside that over the years featured deep dive interviews with iconic figures like Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and John Lennon.
In terms of the thing that it’s easy for a lot of people to miss about the company, though, Kohn (the CEO of Playboy’s parent, PLBY Group) put it to me like this: Playboy “is the original lifestyle brand.” Which is why it decided, for example, to jettison the money-losing print magazine but keep it going in its current digital format as part of a larger lifestyle content push around sexual health, wellness and pleasure. And you can also draw something of a straight line from there to an announcement Playboy unveiled Thursday morning: That it’s teamed up with multi-platinum superstar recording artist Cardi B, to make her the brand’s first-ever creative director in residence.
According to Playboy, Cardi will share her perspective and offer direction across co-branded fashion and sexual wellness merchandise collections. In addition to providing input on Playboy’s editorial side.
Kohn’s point to me, about Playboy being historically a lifestyle brand, harkens back to the days of, for example, swanky Playboy clubs. To the fact that the company’s first consumer product was a pair of cufflinks. In the current era? Playboy is now prepping the launch of its OnlyFans-esque, creator-led site Centerfold. That destination will serve as a future home where creators can interact with their fans and expand their own online communities and commerce businesses.
And, as an indication of how central it will be to the brand’s identity, Cardi will serve as the “founding creative director” and a founding member of the upcoming Centerfold platform (which is expected to launch this month). In support of its launch, Playboy’s parent company in October announced a $30 million deal to acquire the social content platform Dream. That platform, in turn, is going to function as the backend for Centerfold — a service that Kohn told me represents nothing less than than “the next phase in the evolution of the company … the first step, a cornerstone of what’s going to be a much larger digital and membership play going forward.”
This kind of thing is why Kohn could tell me that he’s never viewed this company as a legacy media brand. Which is why it keeps announcing new products like Centerfold, and deals like the company’s acquisition, announced in August, of Australia-based luxury lingerie brand Honey Birdette.
In connection with the Cardi announcement, Kohn declared that Centerfold will “revolutionize the creator economy, just as Playboy magazine shook up the publishing industry nearly 70 years ago.”
In a statement of her own, the singer described it as a “dream come true” to join the Playboy family. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt connected to Playboy,” she said. “It’s truly the original platform for uncensored creativity, and I’m inspired by its incredible legacy of fighting for personal freedoms.
“I have so many ideas already – I can’t wait!”
She continued by encouraging other creators to join her when the Centerfold platform launches. “Creators today deserve to express themselves freely and unfiltered,” she said. “They deserve to feel safe in their creativity and sexuality. And they deserve to own their future. This is what Centerfold is all about. For all those creators out there doing bold, revolutionary, truly culture-shifting things, come join me.”
In term of what else is to come from this partnership, Playboy on Thursday teased co-branded merchandise collections that will serve to accelerate the company’s direct-to-consumer fashion and sexual wellness businesses.
“Cardi B is a creative genius, and we are absolutely thrilled and honored to bring her immense talent and creative vision to Playboy,” Kohn said. “Through her unapologetic commitment to free expression, her dedication to lifting up artistic voices and her celebration of sex and body positivity, Cardi is the embodiment of the Playboy brand. I can’t wait to see what Cardi and our team develop together with our merchandise design, development and distribution capabilities and our best-in-class content production.”