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.