For the Gen X (Born ’61-’81) Hugh Hefner was ‘God’ and a Playboy magazine was like ‘holy scriptures’ as there was no internet in the teenage/ adolescent days. Whether it was secretly reading it behind close doors or ogling at the centerspreads after classroom, this iconic brand has ‘touched’ the lives of most men across the world. Hefner is enviously remembered as the guy who ‘had it all’. But media perceptions can be misleading as is revealed in his biopic on Amazon Prime- ‘American Playboy’.
The first 4-5 episodes detail the launch and progress of he Playboy magazine. When Hefner is working for Esquire, a magazine that he appreciates the most, he is refused a $5 raise that leads to his quitting his job. The seed of Playboy is born there and becomes a revolution under the astute business acumen and team building knack of Hefner. There is an interesting parallel story depicting the progress of American History. Also the background music is carefully chosen to represent the era and each situation. Archival footage and interviews with people associated with Playboy is juxtaposed with the docu-drama, making this narrative interesting. However, the acting is not up to the mark and the dialogues sound too scripted. Character building is sacrificed in a hurry to rush in to the story.
We get a peek at the other side of Hefner- born to conservative protestants and raised without physical affection. His transformation to an actual ‘playboy’ who lives the brand is amazing yet believable. The launch and the progress of the magazine itself could be a case study in Marketing and a better textbook than the best of Philip Kotler’s books. ‘Hef’ has a clear description of his Target Audience and knows their habits and aspirations well (market research). He waits for Marilyn Monroe’s nude pic to launch it (PR) and the mag is well packaged with intellectual articles along with the nudes (product design). He hires the perfect team (people) and gets a logo that is a good fit (bunny). He staunchly supports the end of racism (CSR) and even gets Black Americans to work for him. When he needs to boost revenues he goes for ad sales and invents the ‘centerfold’ (innovation). Gets the Playboy Mansion (experiential marketing) and then the Playboy Clubs (Direct Marketing and Merchandising) with Bunnies to serve the ‘gentlemen’. Particularly interesting is the way he defied odds and shaped American culture to a large extent.
In all this, he works too hard at the cost of his personal life and does the mistake of mixing business with pleasure many a time which catches up with him later.The second half of the series deals with the various hurdles that he faced that includes the cops coming to arrest him and the untimely death of one of his colleagues. It is also interesting to see the various brands launched during his time and the change in American society and their mind-sets.
The Netflix- Amazon war has just begun in India. While Netflix launched last year and got some kickass content like Narcos, OITNB, Spartacus and recently ‘The Crown, Amazon Prime has fired its first salvo with AP. One wonders why Hefner never got as much credit for being a corporate honcho as much as his other counterparts like Branson, Jobs, Welch, Morita etc. got. Now that Hef biopic is done, one hopes to see ‘ How I lost my Virginity’ on screen. Is Netflix listening?
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