Opinion

How Playboy is hitting on Asian men

Playboy TVPlayboy is not a TV channel that is allowed to be beamed into every household in a region that, on the whole, takes a conservative attitude towards adult content. So earlier this year, Playboy Entertainment Plus soft-launched non-porn channel Lifestyle TV to target 18-38 year-old Asian men with a mixture of man-friendly fashion, travel and lifestyle content that won’t make the censors blush.

Lanny Huang is the long-time boss of the Playboy brand in Asia. In this interview with Mumbrella, she talks about her company’s strategy for growth in Asia, what men want from television, and why countries with a declining birth rate need adult shows for couples.

Lanny Huang

Playboy Asia boss Lanny Huang

How long have you been with the company?

I’ve been with Playboy for 12 years. I still talk to Hugh Heffner [the 88 year-old founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises] a lot about growth in this region. Christie, his daughter [the former CEO and chairwoman of Playboy Enterprises], hired me. I was the first to bring the Playboy Playmates to Asia. That impressed them, and I’ve been with them ever since.

How much of a challenge is your job marketing the Playboy brand in Asia?

For me, it’s easier to speak to a government about bringing the Playboy brand into their country because I’m a woman. We are very careful in the conversations we have with governments; there is a lot of explaining to do about our intentions.

On Desire TV: The Sex Files

On Desire TV: The Sex Files

We try more liberal markets such as Australia and New Zealand first. In New Zealand, we launched Desire TV on Sky. It’s a channel for couples to watch together. If it proves successful in New Zealand, then we’ll roll it out to Australia then South Korea, then elsewhere. We’re taking it step by step. But I believe there’s an important role for channels like this. Look at the demographic trends. In some countries with a falling birth rate, governments could find a serious use for Desire TV. It’s romantic as well as erotic, and is less likely offend female viewers because it’s not super-pornographic.

How are you planning to introduce the Playboy brand to Asia’s most sensitive markets such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia?

Our strategy is different. We are not trying to bring Playboy programming into these sensitive markets, because it is adult content [and will not be permitted].

Playboy TVWhere is Playboy TV permitted to broadcast in the region?

Playboy TV is only allowed in five countries – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Mongolia. A number of the markets you mentioned don’t allow us to operate there so we pulled the brand away – although we do have a presence in retail in these territories. The Playboy bunny is everywhere even though it’s not on TV. We produce many events with sponsors who want to do cross-marketing with us, for instance.

So what sort of retail presence does the Playboy brand have in Asia?

We have branded stores where we produce branded watches, merchandise and so on. In China, our branded men’s suits sell very well. Chinese men who get their first suit wants one with a Playboy bunny on it. Our suits are very popular, especially in Shanghai.

So what sort of look is the Playboy look?

The Mad Men era look is similar to the Playboy, and the men we’re targeting have a similar profile.

So the brand clearly has clout in Asia, despite its limitations in media?

Many people see the logo – the Playboy bunny – as a fashion icon, and we’re proud of that. The brand is very aspirational for Asian men.

Tell us about Lifestyle TV.

Girls gone Wild

A show on Lifestyle TV: Girls Gone Wild

It’s a joint venture between Chinese media company Mei Ah Entertainment and Playboy Plus Entertainment. We launched Lifestyle TV in Hong Kong, Thailand and Mongolia earlier this year, and we’re targeting five more Asian territories for launch in the coming months.

What sort of content will run on Lifestyle TV?

We’ll be running shows made by the likes America’s Lionsgate, Korea’s CJ Media, Hong Kong Mei Ah and Japan’s Mondo TV. Programs include Girls Gone Wild, Mad Men, Racing Queen, Food Essay, The Hero Wears Suit and Latin Angels Special.

We are also working on a project with a China production company to produce how-to programming, such as how to tie a bow tie, which I suspect will be very popular. There’s also a segment for men on how to unhook a woman’s bra with one finger.

So how racy is LSTV?

Cooking show in Lifestyle TV

Cooking show on Lifestyle TV

LSTV would comply with the broadcasting regulations of all countries in Asia, as there is no nudity. It’s not strictly speaking adult content.

How will it stand out from the competition?

LSTV is the only lifestyle channel in Asia for men. Others, such as Fox or Star TV, are more suitable for women with dramas, telenovelas and the like.

Aren’t advertisers wary of placing ads on a channel associated with pornography?

Yes, some are very sensitive. But some we’ve talked to in Mongolia and Thailand are actually keen that the Playboy bunny logo features on Lifestyle TV, to show off the channel’s heritage. They want us to draw attention to the fact that the channel is partly produced by Playboy. But on the whole we’re very careful in our communications. We don’t want to offend anyone.

What sort of advertisers are you going for?

Brands such as Red Bull and Columbia Wear.

69 Sexy Things to Do Before you DieWill some shows that run on Playboy TV run on Lifestyle TV too?

Yes, segments such as “69 sexy things to do before you die” will run on LSTV, but an edited version of the show.

What are you main hopes for growing the Playboy brand over the next year in Asia?

Bringing to China would be my dream. But ask me again at the end of next year. China is not ready for the bunny right now, but over time let’s see.

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