Playboy has made the leap into Second Life with the launch of Playboy Island on June 12.
In one respect, Playboy has always been about fantasy. What teenage boy hasn't dreamed of an evening in Hugh Hefner's smoking jacket, lounging around the Mansion, and surrounded by a dozen models in various states of undress? And, since many of the women featured in Playboy magazine are enhanced caricatures of what most actual women look like, it's easy to see why their avatars would fit in to Second Life so seamlessly.
Nevertheless, it seems counterintuitive to take away that which is the main attraction for the Playboy aficionado - the sexy image of a living, breathing woman. But, Playboy Island is an endeavor as firmly rooted in the business of Playboy as in the pleasure of it.
"This is an extraordinarily innovative, three-dimensional platform for social networking," says Jeremy Westin, EVP of business development for Playboy Media Group. "[It] is both a marketing tool for us to tell people what's going on in the world of Playboy, and also an opportunity to raise awareness for our licensed products to dress avatars or to purchase in real life."
In the press release discussing the first quarter 2007 results for Playboy Enterprises, Christie Hefner, chairman and CEO of the company, cited licensing as a profitable area.
"Licensing will report a banner year with 2007 revenues and profits now expected to increase approximately 20 to 25% in 2007, excluding the sale of artwork," she's quoted in a statement. The release goes on to chart the increase in operations net revenues for consumer products from $6.8 million in the first quarter of 2006 to $8.7 million in the first quarter of 2007, the majority of the $11.2 million total for all licensing.
Since the Island is new, Playboy doesn't yet have numbers to quantify its success. Anecdotally, however, Westin says they've experienced an overflow of visitors - both men and women - for the two-day launch party and an in-world jazz festival they hosted.
"[Second Life] is an environment where you can do many different things without spending a lot of money," says Westin. "We've had a very high visit rate among women. Female avatars come in their best outfits and are buying the gear."
Despite the potential for controversy when dealing with adult entertainment, Playboy is wildly popular in print and through their retail business, which Westin calls "enormous," and has attained impressive ratings for the mainstream E! network television program The Girls Next Door. On the homepage of the Playboy Enterprises Web site, there's mention of Christie Hefner's designation by Forbes magazine as one of the "100 most powerful women in the world."
The site also describes Playboy as "brand-driven." After over fifty years, the iconic bow-tied rabbit head may still be the same, but the brand is obviously willing to evolve and adapt. Second Life and its social networking counterparts offer customer engagement and bottom-line gains when done correctly.
"We take the responsibility for this brand very seriously and something like Second Life was a no-brainer," says Westin.