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Playboy tries to pick up women

The company built on its "Entertainment for Men" platform now is looking to lure women, especially online.

Playboy Enterprises wants to focus on women--and not just through a camera lens.

The male sex drive may be the bedrock of the company's flagship magazine, but now Playboy wants to lure women to its brand--largely via its Web site. The company is working to forge partnerships with yet-to-be-named women's sites, and it will try to draw more females into its celebrity chat sessions and online dating services, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Theim.

"We're talking to some female-oriented Web sites," Theim said today. "Playboy is and will always be a brand predominately for men, but there are some activities where there is cross-over."

When the magazine's growth sputtered in the '70s, Playboy aggressively expanded its reach to cable TV, gaming, catalog merchandising, and the Net. For Playboy, women may be another untapped target market.

Playboy's renaissance has been led by See special feature:
Playboy pins hopes on Net chief executive Christie Hefner, and in many cases carried out by women, who account for 40 percent of the company's management ranks. It could be argued that they know their audience--or at least can spot new business opportunities.

"These [women's] sites have uncannily high amounts of traffic," said Mark Mooradian, an analyst at Jupiter Communications.

"I'm fascinated by Playboy's resolve here," he added. "It doesn't seem like something that will come easily, but if they were to embark upon such a quest, it would be different approach than all these other women's sites are taking."

Playboy would be smart to license its articles to women's sites, Mooradian said.

"Once they're talking about licensing their content or syndicating it, that is a great strategy," he said. "It makes sense to work with these sites to gain that distribution and that could, in turn, drive traffic back to Playboy."

Aside from the Net offerings, Playboy also will market a women's line of clothing with the famous bunny emblem and feature more celebrity pictorials.

Although women increasingly are logging onto the Internet, Playboy still faces a huge cultural barrier: feminists for decades have criticized the magazine for portraying women as mere sex objects.

Playboy is not alone in discovering the female market, though. Technology sites, which are largely used by men, also are trying to draw women through content-sharing deals with sites such as iVillage and Women's Wire.

"There is definitely a feeling here that women in their 20s and early 30s are more comfortable with their success and sexuality than previous generations," Theim added.

Recent Playboy Online chats with model Cindy Crawford and Olympic ice skater Katarina Witt generated record traffic, Theim said, and women were in the audience.

"Some of this is not what we are doing, but the changing demographic of Web users," she added. "It started out as a male-dominated--now women are online and there has to be something on the board for them."