Playboy wants to build a new mansion in the metaverse

Key Points
  • Playboy has plans to reboot its brand in the digital world through NFTs, digital subscriptions and a new mansion in the metaverse.
  • The company has already created thousands of NFTs based on the iconic Playboy bunny logo.
  • It also has a platform called Centerfold that competes with OnlyFans.
Playboy Logo

Playboy is on a mission to spread its famous bunny logo across the digital universe.  

The company has dropped thousands of Playboy NFTs featuring bunny avatars, launched a digital social platform called Centerfold and has plans to build a new Playboy Mansion in the metaverse.

These plans are unfolding while an A&E documentary focuses on the company's unflattering past. "Secrets of Playboy" is a 10-part series making headlines by featuring former employees, playmates and past girlfriends of the company's founder, Hugh Hefner, alleging Playboy had a dark side.

Even before the series' debuted in late January, company leadership posted an open letter to its website noting, "today's Playboy is not Hugh Hefner's Playboy."

The futuristic moves come almost five years after Hefner's death and two years since the last legacy print magazine hit the newsstands. Staging its digital reinvention for the next wave of internet innovation, which technologists call Web3, is the next big challenge.

"The magazine was one product of the company. But it was really that rabbit head that's worth billions and billions of dollars and not replicable," Playboy CEO Ben Kohn told CNBC in a recent interview. 

While the brand drives billions in consumer spending worldwide, much of it through licensed products sold overseas, Kohn said that business model is broken and that the company needs to make changes.

The CEO's fixes rely heavily on that not-so-secret weapon: the world famous bowtie-wearing rabbit.

"When you think about what this brand represents, from a marketing perspective, from an awareness perspective, we pretty much have 100% awareness everywhere in the world," he said.

Kohn compared Playboy's brand awareness to Nike and Apple — companies with logos that are also instantly recognizable across the globe.

The company is focused on trying to leverage that "inherent value" in the digital world. For example, a Playboy SEC filing last year shows the company paid $12 million to purchase a Bombardier Global Express BD-700 so Kohn could unleash that priceless bunny logo across not just the sky, but also on the internet. 

The new Playboy jet's tail wing emblazoned with the famous bunny logo.

The plane is an homage to the black-painted DC-9, known as the Big Bunny, flown by Hugh Hefner in the '70s. The Global Express, which started off white, was gut-renovated before re-emerging five month's later with a sleek all-black body emblazoned with bunny logos and the same tail number used on its predecessor that whisked Hefner, celebrities and an entourage of Playboy bunnies around the world.

Photo taken on August 30, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (top), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and other playmates arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'.
STR | AFP | Getty Images

Unlike Hefner's plane, there are no scantily-clad Playboy bunnies or a waterbed on this ride. The luxury jet does include a pop-up bar and digital disco balls, but Kohn is looking beyond those dated features to the potential the powerful tail wind the Global Express could create for e-commerce, social influence and marketing.

"This is a way for us to work with influencers and celebrities on a global basis, in a collaborative way," he said.

Playboy's new corporate jet is a reboot of the Big Bunny Hugh Hefner flew in the '70s. Today's model is an all-black Global Express that cost $12 million.

On one of its earliest flights in December, the plane shuttled Cardi B from New York to Art Basel in Miami. That takeoff coincided with the announcement of the famous rapper's new role as Playboy's creative director in residency and the company's launch of a new travel-themed line of apparel and accessories inspired by the the relaunch of the Big Bunny jet.

Offerings include a $950 cashmere blanket with the jet's tail number, N95OPB, printed across it and a $350 leather safari jacket that matches the distinctive leather upholstered walls in the jet's lavatory — all of it exclusively sold online. For Kohn the $12 million jet is a flying billboard/retail store, and when influencers are on board it becomes a megaphone for the brand on social media.

On her flight to Miami, Cardi B created two Instagram posts that racked up almost 9 million views. Playboy's counting on the rapper's influence and her 123 million Instagram followers to help revive the brand and provide jet fuel for Centerfold, its new venture. The company describes Centerfold as a new digital platform that promotes "creative freedom, artistic expression and sex positivity."

Users pay fees to subscribe to a creator's content and the creator splits that revenue with Playboy, putting it in competition with OnlyFans, an online subscription platform known for featuring many creators who produce sexually explicit content.    

In October, Kohn reunited the brand with actress and model Pamela Anderson, who was featured on 13 Playboy covers dating back to 1989. Her latest role: helping promote Playboy's first giant drop of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.

The company has unleashed Rabbitars, 11,953 original digital artworks that depict cartoon-like bunny characters sold on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace. These Rabbitar NFTs also unlock exclusive offers, giveaways and assorted metaverse experiences. In the spring, Playboy plans a Rabbitar-themed merchandise drop. What's more, archival photos of David Bowie from 1976, a Playboy bunny on water skis from 1970 and a Playboy cover from April 1973 have been turned into NFTs.

"We have 10 million pieces of content in our archive that we can also drop as NFTs moving forward," Kohn said.

The CEO also has plans to bring back the Playboy Mansion, but this time in a digital form.

"I look at [the mansion] coming back first in the metaverse, because I think we can reach a global audience through that. It will be part of our membership plan," Kohn said. "And then I can see a world down the road where we have physical mansions as well."

Playboy has thrown parties in Decentraland, one of the most popular virtual worlds, but it has yet to choose a site for its metaverse mansion.

"As we move into 2022, we'll begin with Playboy membership and members will have a whole host of benefits moving forward and a lot of our membership will be based on blockchain,"  Kohn said.

While Kohn looks toward the future, the release of the 10 hour-long "Secrets of Playboy" last month forces the company to publicly acknowledge its past. Company leadership chose to try to get ahead of the story, though. In an open letter before the series aired, it voiced support for those who came forward to talk about their experiences in the world of Playboy.

"As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable," the letter said.

Kohn told CNBC that under his leadership Playboy has come a long way and can now boast that 80% of its employees are women. "And I think that's a great sign for where the company's moving going forward," he said.

He also pointed to a dramatic shift in consumer demographics as a sign that Playboy is opening a new chapter in its history.

"If you look at the average age of our audience, 75% of them are under 34. Today, over 50% of our sales are to women — that is a dramatically different company than where we were four years ago," he said.  

Metaverse real-estate sales reach $501 million in 2021
Metaverse real-estate sales reach $501 million in 2021