“What Sort of Man Reads Playboy?” Ads

Playboy’s peak year of circulation was 1972. In fact, the best-selling issues was November 1972, selling over 7,000,000 copies. The New Yorker reported than roughly 25% of college men were purchasing the magazine monthly. The 70’s started out so well for Playboy that Heffner decided to become the first gentlemen’s magazine to be printed in Braille. There’s been a great deal written about the magazine, the empire that it started, and whether and how that empire is in decline today. Founded in 1953, like all magazine Heffner needed to collect advertising revenue to stay afloat. Unlike other magazine of the time, however, Heffner needed to prove two things to would-be advertisers: (1) a critical mass of men is purchasing the magazine, and (2) they were looking at more than just the pictures in the magazine. As you might imagine, Playboy struggled with the latter more than the former.

To combat this issue, Playboy ran a series of advertisements in the 60’s that I came across in my research on bachelor pads. You might be familiar with them. These are the “What sort of man reads Playboy?” ads. Formally, these advertisements were ads for advertisers (a dizzying thought). But they also played a role in normalizing the use of pornography by framing its use as commonplace, public, and undertaken by white, wealthy, successful men. Looking back on these ads now, it seems likely that the ads said more about how Heffner and Playboy saw themselves than it did about the readership.

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The Bachelor Pad: Myths and Reality

There is not actually a great deal of literature on “man caves,” “man dens,” and the like–save for some anthropological and archeological work using the term a bit differently.  There is, however, a substantial body of literature dealing with bachelor pads.  The “bachelor pad” is a term that emerged in the 1960s.  It was a style of masculinizing domestic spaces heavily influenced by “gentlemen’s” magazines like Esquire and Playboy.  Originally referred to as “bachelor apartments,” “bachelor pad” was coined in an article in the Chicago Tribune, and by 1964 it appeared in The New York Times and Playboy as well.

It’s somewhat ironic that the “bachelor pad” came into the American cultural consciousness at a time when the median age at first marriage was at a historic low (20.3 for women and 22.8 for men).  So, the term came into usage at a time when heterosexual marriage was in vogue.  Why then?  Another ironic twist is that while the term has only become more popular since it was introduced, “bachelorette pad” never took off–despite the interesting finding that women live alone in larger numbers than do men.  I think these two paradoxes substantiate a fundamental truth about the bachelor pad–it has always been more myth than reality (see here, here, here, here, and here). Continue reading