Online Extra: Brawny Rolls out a New Guy

Consumers have long recognized the paper towel brand by its lumberjack mascot. But to stay relevant, he needed an update

By Nanette Byrnes

Is the Brawny man a metrosexual? Well, not exactly. But he has had a makeover. In late 2003 Brawny's owner, Georgia Pacific (GP ), decided to look into giving its symbol a facelift. For 30 years the paper products company had only minimally tinkered with the visage of its successful spokeshunk. He had, after all, helped the paper towels reach an enviable 98% name-recognition rate in the U.S.

But with the metrosexual trend raging Mr. Brawny had started to look, in the words of Michael C. Burandt, Georgia Pacific's president of North American consumer products, "a little dated" by 2003. The date he was referring to was 1980. The sandy-blond, sweeping hair and blue denim shirt (the blue shirt was introduced in 2000) both looked out of step. Even the style in which he was drawn seemed to hark back to the glory days of Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck.

Burandt and his team set out to create a "character book" for the Brawny man. It includes adjectives to describe him: real, genuine, strong, the ideal next-door neighbor. It also notes he likes to drink beer—Labatts Canadian or a light domestic—and listens to progressive jazz and country music. The debate about his marital status heated up so much that his handlers decided to leave it an open question as to whether he's single or not.


  Yearlong customer research led to a new, more clean-cut look. His hair is now shorter. A T-shirt—not bare flesh—peeks out from under the workshirt. And his coloring got some tweaking. "He had blondish-red hair, a fair tone to skin, blue eyes," says Burandt. "The trend in the U.S. is a little more diverse, so now he has brown eyes and an olive complexion."

However he still loves the outdoors, knows a lot about chopping down trees, and is back to wearing the familiar red hunting shirt. After the change, the company says, his 7% likability score with consumers rose to 74%.

It wasn't the metrosexual phenomenon that motivated the re-do, Burandt says, but rather a $200-million-plus technological upgrade in the way Georgia Pacific manufactures Brawny paper towels. It seemed appropriate to invest some resources in the brand's mascot too. But the company wasn't ever considering moving too far from his essential traits. "Brawny stands for strength," says the executive. "The more he conveys strength, the better."


  Burandt acknowledges his core customers, mothers 25 to 49 years old, are looking for some new things in a man these days. "Women's expectations of men are very different than they were 30 years ago," he says. "Eighty percent of our target women work. She's multitasking. She seeks balance, and she seeks more organization in her life. Men are evolving to play a much bigger role in that area. That provides for a fairly significant emotional connection to our audience."

But how can the Brawny man help women realize the new expectations they have of males? Last year the company posted on its Web site eight 15-second audio clips in which the Brawny man interacts with the ladies. He says things like "Nice to See You," and "You must have had a tough day," and "Yes, yes, yes." The company spent $250,000 on the campaign and got 2 million views, with people spending an average of 25 to 30 minutes on the paper towel's site.

This summer Georgia Pacific further upped the ante, hiring one of the original producers of TV hit Survivor to bring the Brawny man to life in an online reality series. These short films are about the transformation of men whose wives, girlfriends, or other partners send them to Brawny Academy to clean up their acts in a number of ways—learning to dance and be tidier, for example. Perhaps a little makeover of their own….

Byrnes is a New York-based senior writer for BusinessWeek

Edited by Rebecca Reisner

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.