What do Disney and Playboy have in common?

You might be surprised at how much. The two companies' iconic leaders used many of the same strategies to build their brands, and small business owners can benefit.

By MSN Money staff Mar 12, 2014 11:14PM

By Dan S. Kennedy

Entrepreneur on MSN MoneyIn his book "No B.S. Guide to Brand-Building by Direct Response," business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy offers a no-holds-barred plan to creating and profiting from a powerful brand. In this edited excerpt, the author discusses two well-known marketing geniuses, who turned their companies into worldwide brands.

Walt Disney frequently reminded everybody that "It all started with a mouse." Hugh Hefner's empire began with a stag as a symbol of maleness, abandoned it because it was already taken, and replaced by the symbol of eternal horniness, the rabbit. These are two of the greatest brand-builders around.

From left: Mickey Mouse at Disney World; Atmosphere at the 50th anniversary of the Playboy Club & Playboy Bunny at Juliet Supper Club on June 10, 2010 in New York City
From left: © Steve Starr/CORBIS ; © Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty imagesYou might not think the two should share the same sentence, but they have a lot in common. They both began with virtually no money and built valuable, powerful, iconic brands with little investment in actual brand-building and virtually no brand/image advertising. Both Disney and Hefner grew their brands on the back of direct marketing and sales activity, on free advertising via media partnerships and publicity, and through leverage of the media.

Other shared strategies include:

Creating a world of their own. Disney's line "The Happiest Place On Earth" might have been used by Hefner for the world of Playboy, symbolized by the Playboy Mansion, if Walt hadn't already snagged it. The existential importance of the Playboy Mansion was shown off in a Playboy magazine cartoon, circa 1960, in which a truth-seeker has climbed to a mountain peak to beg wisdom from the wise guru. The guru tells him: "There is a man who lives in a mansion full of beautiful women and wears pajamas all the time. Sit at his feet and learn from him, for he has found the secret of true happiness." Disney also featured a symbolic structure at Disneyland and Disney World: Sleeping Beauty's Castle, where dreams come true and romance flourishes. Both Disney and Playboy feature a profound sense of place, where no one ever need grow up.

Standing for and promoting a philosophy. Hefner even called it "The Playboy Philosophy" and explained it in detail, beginning with a series of essays in his magazine. Hefner argued against censorship, for sexual freedom, for civil rights, even for modern feminism. He also created a series of internal ads titled "What Sort of a Man Reads Playboy?" which presented a profile worthy of aspiration. Walt also stood for certain enunciated principles and values, built into the films and entertainment product, and integrated into projects like Epcot and Celebration. Here's a revealing Disney quote:

"Disneyland would encompass the essence of the things that are good and true in American life ... a place for people to find happiness and new knowledge. The older generation can capture the nostalgia of days gone by, the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future, and it will be a source of hope and inspiration to all the world."

Rather a grandiose way to describe an amusement park, don't you think? But that's the point. Disney and Hefner both saw and spoke of significance and importance in what they were doing that went far beyond the basic products and deliverables of their businesses. Whether you agree with them or not, these men who built great brands believed they were doing something important.

Personality-driven brand. Disney was as much the public face of his enterprises as was Mickey. He began promoting Disneyland by hosting a show on ABC and remained a familiar TV host for many years. He was the company's chief storyteller and salesman. Hefner used his own TV show early on, purportedly a party in his own penthouse, with his celebrity buddies all there having a good time. Very recently, he was again seen starring with his girlfriends in a reality TV series. The two individuals and these two brands, inseparable.

Place. The Disney Parks with Cinderella's Castle as center point. The Playboy Mansion, with its infamous Grotto as its center point. Both sites have a "Fantasyland."

Product as promotion. For Disney, it began with a licensed Mickey Mouse watch and a Disney train and has become a licensing juggernaut, with its characters and iconic images on hundreds of thousands of products. The Playboy bunny logo is one of the most licensed trademarks of all time for apparel, cologne, artwork, etc. All these products not only generate revenue but work at promoting, creating and sustaining interest in the brand.

Media. Walt Disney launched Disneyland with an alliance with ABC; now Disney owns them, along with ESPN and several Disney-branded cable TV channels and Disney radio stations. It still airs Disney specials on ABC, each an infomercial for the parks, current Disney personalities and new movies. Hugh Hefner began with Playboy magazine but promoted Playboy early with TV. To this day, Hefner still uses such media plays: In recent years, there were reality shows on the E Network, all about the Mansion and his girlfriends. There was also a feature film, in 2008, The House Bunny. All these serve as powerful infomercials for the brand, yet Playboy has been paid for them rather than buying advertising. Its own cable TV channel is also both a business itself and continuous, 365-day brand promotion.

Consider how these two men launched and built their brands. They never spent or had to spend on dopey image advertising. Their brands were built by their own media products and businesses, by profitable advertising selling their products, by stealth advertising embedded in TV programming they were paid to produce and provide or paid licensing fees for, and by an untold variety of merchandise proliferating in the marketplace, for which they were also paid licensing fees.

If you have a small, local business you may too quickly disqualify yourself and think that this is above and beyond you. There are two things to consider about that. One is that everybody started and starts somewhere, often small and local. Disneyland was, after all, a local business, and central Florida was picked as the second location based on the population within one day's driving distance. Hefner began in Chicago, his office in his apartment, his magazine assembled atop his bed, and then with one local Playboy Club. These days, geographic boundaries have been blurred and expanded by ecommerce and overnight shipping. A local gourmet cupcake store in Hudson, Ohio, has customers in 40 states and 9 countries. A clothier's shop in London mails catalogs throughout the U.S. and ships products worldwide. Why must you think small?

Second, even if you choose to be local and stay small, all the same strategies can and should apply, particularly if you want to be a locally dominant brand. Why shouldn't you dominate your market?

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Mar 13, 2014 2:21PM
Disney would turn over in his gave if he seen what they have done to his dreams
Mar 13, 2014 2:11PM
YUP all they care about is money not class or style and I'm so sorry Disney But Mickey Passed away with Walt no matter how hard you try to resurrect him.
Mar 13, 2014 2:05PM

Now, if I could only get my wife to change our Disneyland vacation for a trip to the Grotto ...


oops, now I am in Fantasyland !

Mar 13, 2014 2:18PM
Disney owns entities that produce porn, and hide their affiliation through shell corporations, don't they?
Mar 13, 2014 2:13PM
I tend to think both Hugh Heffner and Walt Disney were both kind of classy. But comparing these two companies the way the writer did is a huge stretch. Might as well take any other brand and compare: "What do Coca Cola and Disney have in common?"  "What do Starbucks and Playboy have in common" "What does Wrigley and Disney have in common?!?!?" All those brands started small with little money. But those comparisons won't get clicks as much as comparing Playboy with Disney.
Mar 13, 2014 2:09PM
They're both entertainment franchises, that's the biggest thing. The fact that branding is the biggest factor in an entertainment franchise is not news. Of course, they both lucked onto the "never grow up" thesis in a period where it was at least tolerated if not encouraged. It's interesting that both are now going downhill together--well, Disney would be even more except for buying Pixar and also getting into R-rated films (which doesn't at all fit the Disney "persona").
Both are fantasy lands where people dress up and pretend to be what they are not and take your money for the experience....

[Please keep in mind I am talking about Disney and Playboy... Not Congress and the President]

Mar 13, 2014 3:32PM
Actually the biggest similarity between Playboy and Disney is that they both push the extremist, liberal, democrat homosexual agenda on Americans who want nothing to do with it. Disney just withdrew donation funding from the Boy Scouts because the leadership will not allow homosexual scout leaders in the Boy Scouts. Talk about extreme..... Disney should be boycotted for their actions.

When R-rated movies were all the rage and Disney was losing money, Christians everywhere stood by Disney and faithfully supported their family friendly movies. Now Christians have made Disney possibly the most successful film studio in the world, Disney has turned on them and stabbed Christians in the back.

Disney's actions towards the Boy Scouts are despicable - really it is only common sense to not allow homosexual scout leaders in the Boy Scouts. Homosexuals per capita have a much higher incidence of pedophilia than heterosexuals.  We don't allow male scout leaders in the girl scouts for the very same reason. Further, the worldview of homosexuals is 180 degrees different from the Boy Scout organization's world view.

It is time for Americans to take a hard look at Disney, Apple, Starbucks and other corporations that support the radical, extreme homosexual democrat agenda and are attempting to FORCE it on Americans who find it morally despicable.

Mar 13, 2014 4:07PM
Why aren't we getting to comment on most of the top news? Oh thats right protecting the MSN agenda.
Mar 13, 2014 4:01PM
People that worked for both are in the running for Slut of the month.
Mar 13, 2014 2:37PM
When I was a kid we couldn't wait to watch the "Wonderful World of Disney". It was always a family oriented show that everybody enjoyed. Sorry to hear that Disney is now being compared to Playboy and I'm really sorry to hear they aren't supporting the Boy Scouts because the Boy Scouts won't let their Troop Leaders be perverted homos. So, now I don't support the Gay Scouts or Disney.
Mar 13, 2014 5:33PM
Mar 13, 2014 4:26PM
Walt Disney was a pervert and a 33 degree mason -- where do you think Club 33 comes from??. None of their "kids" movies are made for kids; they are full of subliminal messages and sexual suggestions. I would never watch another Disney movie. It's all trash and deceptiveness. I found the video at the youtube channel ExposedCelebs. There you can find the Disney Perverted Empire video. Thanks.
Mar 13, 2014 3:50PM
Mar 13, 2014 2:00PM
Really!!!  Walt Disney had nothing in common with Hugh Heffner.  Walt was classy,  Hugh was trashy!
Mar 13, 2014 3:15PM
Hahahahaha.. T-Bone Burnett wrote a song 'Hefner & Disney' in 1983 about this very subject.  

The business similarities are simply dross.  

Somewhere between Never Neverland and Wonderland
In a land called Never Wonderland
There lived a beautiful wealthy young divorce
With a checkered past and a bad memory
Who should probably remain nameless

And men traveled from far and wide and try to win her hand
And she took in stragglers from all over the known world
Her newest guests were as her mother called them
"The latest Russians to defect"
One's name was Hefner the other's name was Disney

Disney smoked a pipe and was very philosophical
He was constantly surrounded by go go girls
He used to take pictures of them without any clothes on
And sell them to the neighborhood children

Hefner on the other hand was not so introspective
He loved a good story just like anybody else
In fact he loved the myths of Never Wonderland so much
That he made elaborate molded plastic sculptures
Of the characters in the myths

And then he'd set them out in the garden
Until he had built a whole 'nother land in Never Wonderland
Which he called Hefnerland

The neighborhood children loved them
They had lots of fun playing in Hefnerland
And looking at all Disney's go go pictures
Because they didn't know any better
And they didn't know any worse

But the beautiful, wealthy, young divorce thought
That they were only after her money
Sometimes she even wished they would go back to Russia
But between you and me they were really dupes of the Wicked King
Who wanted to rob the children of their dreams

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