When a logo says too much

I heard a discussion on the radio today regarding a protest over merchandise carrying the Playboy bunny logo being displayed next to similar Disney-branded products – ie clearly aimed at young children.

This raises some interesting issues – which I will come back to.  But in researching the story, I noticed the following headline: Protest Over Porn Firm’s Goods In Stationary Store (from York Press).  Fortunately for the brand behind the headline, Stationery Box, its name has been typed correctly – so why wasn’t the headline proof-checked?

Anyway, the overuse of logos is a topic of discussion at present in respect of the I ♥ NY brand, which has reportedly become devalued by indiscriminate, largely unofficial usage.

On the radio, Playboy provided a comment that it did not condone its products being displayed alongside material targeting young children.  But the company cannot claim ignorance on the issue as the Guardian ran a comment piece last October and reported a similar protest by schoolchildren in 2005.  It was also discussed on BBC Radio 4 in 2006. 

Of course, not everyone sees extensive use of the Playboy logo in relation to children’s products as an issue as shown by the comments in response to a story of a young US girl’s suspension from school for wearing bunny branded clothing.

Some people may argue that a cute bunny is just a cute bunny.  However, from a public relations perspective a logo says a lot about corporate identity and image.  The identity is how the company wishes to be seen – which a brief content analysis of the Playboy website makes clear is as an adult brand.

The brand extension, through stationery and other licensing deals, conveys other messages – whether the company deliberately or otherwise intends it to do so.  That is its image.  So is there really a gap between how Playboy wishes to be seen and is seen?  Probably not.

Here we don’t have a problem over perceptions of the logo – but whether the corporate identity should be restricted to products that match the wider brand.  It is a matter perhaps more of corporate social responsibility.

This also affects the brands retailing the Playboy stationery.  Such products are freely available online, without little impact on the reputation of the retailers.  And, high street retailers like Argos and WH Smith don’t seem too bothered either.  WH Smith isn’t a brand with a good reputation in terms of corporate social responsibility and Argos has been fined in the past for unethical business practices. 

Interestingly the owner of Stationery Box, Theo Paphitis (more famous for appearing on BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme), claims companies do have a social responsibility.  So far, he hasn’t responded to the Playboy and the Vicar issue to reflect this though.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “When a logo says too much”

  1. Playboy is using its brand recognition to market many items which are not themselves directly pornographic. This includes many items which are desirable to young children.

    Retail chains such as Stationery Box participate in this marketing strategy, placing Playboy merchandise on shelves alongside recognised children’s brands such as Barbie, or puppy or kitten themed merchandise. The long term intention of this strategy is to encourage children to see the Playboy bunny as a friendly child appropriate brand, preparing them for early commercial acceptance of Playboy pornographic merchandise.

    This constitutes a kind of “institutional grooming” of children for their commercial exploitation by the powerful sex and pornography industry.

    “Grooming” is the process by which those intent on sexual exploitation prepare their victims over time, winning their trust so that they accept the abuse and exploitation when the abuser initiates it.

    The appalling murder of Stephen Lawrence several years ago, and its aftermath, alerted us to the existence of “institutional racism,” by which institutions, while not being directly racist, had policies and cultures which permitted and fostered racism. In that same sense, Playboy and Stationery Box are engaging in “institutional grooming”, by which their policies prepare children for later acceptance of the cynical and abusive practices of the pornography industry.

  2. Thanks – unfortunately I see this is a story that gets a bit of attention from the media periodically, but the brands concerned don’t seem to have any interest in having a responsible reputation.

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