Hef wants all the bunnies for himself

A mannequin featuring clothes is pictured in a Playboy boutique in central London.

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Kai Ryssdal: To some Hugh Hefner is a weird old dude who walks around in his pajamas and has girlfriends who are way too young for him. To others, the guy who founded Playboy almost 60 years ago is nothing short of a genius.

Either way you think, Hefner's company's in trouble. Hef owns about 70 percent of Playboy. And he said today he wants to buy out the rest -- take it private and keep all those bunnies to himself. And by bunnies, we really do mean bunnies: The company's iconic logo.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports it has become the cotton tail that wags the brand.


Eve Troeh: Hefner's famously said a Playboy centerfold should look like the girl-next-door. Well, with the rise of free adult content on the Internet that might show the actual girl next door, demand for paid Playboy content has shrunk.

Steve Marascia follows the company for Capitol Securities Management. He says the magazine is invaluable, even though it's losing money.

Steve Marascia: It keeps the name out in front of the public. Now what they're doing is transitioning to where the brand side of the business does tend to produce more sales.

That brand, of course, is the iconic bunny. Playboy wants to slap that long-eared logo on everything in sight. Marascia says it's a radical move that'll be easier to make as a private company -- one that doesn't have to answer to shareholders.

Playboy already has its own fragrance and clothing line. It's announced two new Playboy Clubs in Asia. It's even hopped into the beverage business.

Ad for Playboy energy drink: Playboy energy drink, sugar-free and regular...

Wendy Liebmann: If they keep trying to put it where they're putting it, it's not going to work.

Wendy Liebmann is CEO of WSL Strategic Retail. She's seen the bunny on everything from rhinestone jewelry to hot pink pillows. She's says the company's moved away from Hef's more tasteful vision for the brand.

Liebmann: It certainly has been marginalized over this last decade, where it's been put on everything cheap and cheesy imaginable. So I suppose if anyone is going to reinvigorate it, it's the father of it all.

Hefner might not get the chance. He owns the majority of the company's stock, but other shareholders have to sign off on his bid to buy the rest. Many say his price is too low. And then there's the rival magazine Penthouse. That company's CEO said today that he's preparing a counter offer -- one that might be more of turn-on for investors.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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