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.