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Playboy, innovation, and brands from the 1950’s

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When you travel a lot like I do, you end up doing a lot of reading. One of the books I’ve been reading provides a fascinating look back at the fifties and sixties: Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream. (No, I didn’t buy it for the pictures, because there are very few.)

I was struck by a paragraph that spoke to how the company worked hard to get advertisers on board in the early years. It took some time, but eventually, they began to sign up some of the leading brands of the time.

Home amenities also abounded, with promotions for everything from Crosswinds House beach towels and robes to Scintella Satin BedSheets, Lektrostat Kit record cleanerss to Mansfield Holiday II 8-mm. cameras, Leslie Record Racks to the Electro-Voice Musicaster (an outdoor “high-fidelity speaker system for relaxed enjoyment at the patio or pool”). personal accessory plugs included the Ronson Electric Shaver, Max Factor crew-cut hair dressing, Rogers “Rocket Flame” cigarette lighter, Merrin Gold Jewelry, and English Leather aftershave and toiletries. Ads focusing on romance promoted such items as Coty Perfume (“Nothing makes a woman more feminine to a man) and the Batch Book, “a new and modern address book that lets you list every pertinent detail – the surest way to avoid social errors.”


Ask yourself this question when you read that paragraph: how many of those brands actually still exist? Very few of them. Some disappeared due to changing societal norms, others due to technological change.

Regardless of the reason, very few products and brands have any type of longevity in the marketplace. That’s why continual product and brand reinvention is really, really critical. Even more so today than in the 1950’s!

Which is why, when I’m speaking and working with my clients on the need for constant brand innovation, I always challenge them to ask themselves if their brands are from the “olden days.”

I wrote about this in a blog post some time back, noting that brands can become old for a variety of reasons:

  • Your brand looks tired, because it is tired
  • Customers see a lack of innovation
  • Lousy, ineffective customer service
  • You don’t know that you customers know more about your brand than you do
  • A lack of purpose or urgency
  • A lack of market and competitive intelligence
  • A regular series of fumbling missteps

I then went on to note that “a brand today can go from hero to zero in a matter of months. How do you avoid such a fate?

  • Recognize that brand longevity is now a critical issue
  • Ensure your sales, marketing, development and customer support team are relentlessly focused on the currency of the brand
  • Make sure that continuous brand innovation is part of your corporate mantra
  • When confronted with the new and challenging customer, learn from them rather than running away
  • Be incessantly focused on the likely innovations that will come to impact your brand
  • Learn to think five to six product lifecycles in advance — and plan to do them all within six months.
  • Make forward oriented intelligence a critical aspect of what you do.

Innovation – continual product and brand reinvention!

  • Is your brand from the olden days?  
  • Your customers are high velocity. Are you?  

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