By  on November 14, 2007

CHICAGO — Christie Hefner, chairman and chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., views social networking and other new media as opportunities — not threats — to brands.

"Almost every great magazine brand already has accepted the notion that for magazines to be vibrant in the future, they need to think of themselves as brands and ideas that live beyond their pages," Hefner said during her keynote at Forrester's Consumer Forum here last month.

That doesn't mean the digital road won't be bumpy. The day Playboy set up shop in the online virtual world known as Second Life, a computer failure shut out visitors, she said. And shortly after the PlayboyU social networking site, which is intended only for college students, went live this summer, Playboy discovered that its targeted audience wanted different content, so the site is being tweaked.

Still, efforts to make the Playboy brand a multimedia destination are moving ahead. After Playboy introduced content for mobile devices and opened its London flagship last month, Hefner sat down with WWD.

WWD: Tell me a little about the new London store. How is it different than the other Playboy stores?

Christie Hefner: It's merging entertainment with retail. The first level is designed to be the selling space during the day but also a space for events, so that is everything from bringing in a DJ to having yoga classes. The second part of the store that's a step forward is it is the first time we used a concept store to introduce new lines.

WWD: Are there any new technologies you plan to add to shopthebunny.com [Playboy's retail site] or other Web sites?

C.H.: We are clearly interested in taking the underlying premises of social networking and expressing them not just within PlayboyU and its audience but within other parts of the site, whether that is user comments or "most popular" kinds of information to be shared with consumers, or the chance for consumers to form their own communities, whether it is the shopthebunnny environment or another part of the site. It's a trend I would like to see us continue to develop.WWD: Do you see opportunities to connect with shopthebunny.com customers via mobile devices?

C.H.: I hope so. It's a little premature because shopthebunny now is a U.S. phenomenon. But we are talking to partners about what we can do to expand our e-commerce business outside the U.S. for women. The purchase of products via mobile is not a business at all yet in the U.S. I think that is a longer-term opportunity.

WWD: Playboy Island in Second Life — what lessons have you taken away so far?

C.H.: It's only been a couple of months, but I think it was interesting to see how strong the entertainment piece of it was. We thought the store and the casino would be the most dominant activities, and while they did well, we were pleasantly surprised at how much of the Playboy-as-entertainment brand piece was also important. We measure [engagement] in terms of things like people wanting to have their avatars perform in the Playboy venues — whether that is music or comedy — which is a very positive kind of feedback since we'd like to interconnect retail with entertainment and gaming.

WWD: Do you have an avatar of your own in Second Life?

C.H.: I do not. I don't seem to have the time or, to be honest, it's not something that draws me. I go to Second Life to see what people are doing.

WWD: Do you have a favorite designer?

C.H.: This design [I'm wearing] is Lane Davis and I do like the things that she does. I probably wear more Armani than any other single designer because that is my taste.

WWD: You work out at the same gym as Barack Obama?

C.H.: Oh yeah, we're friends. And I am working hard for his presidential campaign.

WWD: What's next?

C.H.: Our vision is to create a world of Playboy that means a wide range of content and experiences that fit under the brand for consumers to engage in and create, but also an international experience. We'd like consumers to go to Carnivale in Rio or Oktoberfest in Munich or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, to go to that experience, participate in it, comment on it and do that no matter where they live in the world. Our grand vision is to think in a very holistic way — to take advantage of the fact that it's the worldwide Web.

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