The Brawny man is losing face but gaining considerable stature in a major makeover of the iconic brand breaking on national TV Monday.
The icon has a rich history, but his place in culture may be bigger than his place on the paper towel shelf after years of getting pushed around by Bounty and others. So now the brand, backed by Cutwater, San Francisco, is making him larger than life in a humorous new campaign with the tagline "Stay Giant!"
The campaign returns the Brawny Man to the dimensions he had in the brand's original launch advertising in the 1970s. In those days, he appeared on TV as a faceless giant lending a hand and rolls of paper towels to women in distress.
On packages, he always had a face, appearing as a mustachioed lumberjack type in a red flannel shirt through the 1970s and '80s. That look, ultimately, prompted jokes about the Brawny Man looking like a '70s porn star. His last makeover, in 2003, resulted in a kinder, gentler, clean-shaven and more ethnically ambiguous brunette, still clad in plaid. As part of that iteration, from Cincinnati design firm Deskey (the same firm behind Procter & Gamble Co.'s iconic Tide logo), the Brawny Man had his own online reality series in which he taught the finer arts of manliness. That drew attention from Politico for an uncanny resemblance to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The new Brawny Man design from Turner Duckworth, San Francisco, is nearly faceless on package, though he sports some 21st century-style stubble along with the plaid shirt and giant pecs.
"We went back to the core of what Brawny stands for to develop a unique voice," said Gary Gastel, senior brand director for Brawny, part of Koch Industries' Georgia-Pacific. "Consumers told us this is an iconic American brand that stands for strength and resilience at an emotional level, which are attributes our consumers also use to describe themselves."
In keeping with the "Stay Giant!" tagline, Brawny is also breaking with recent industry norms by adding more sheets to every roll, Mr. Gastel said. "So it's really a full overhaul."
While initial ads are funny, the tagline also leaves room for more poignant ads down the road, he said. Connecting with consumers on an emotional level "is a place we feel Brawny can truly own in the category."
The Brawny man has a very big role indeed, as Mr. Gastel sees it. He's "the voice inside our head that helps us to stay giant when we face adversity." In testing, he said that concept proved very effective with consumers and "created a bit of a mystique."
The ads from Cutwater, the first for the brand from the agency headed by former TBWA/Chiat Day Creative Director Chuck McBride and former JWT global accounts chief Christian Hughes, inject some humor into a category that generally doesn't have a lot.
Mr. Hughes noted that the agency found people would sometimes dress up as the Brawny Man at Halloween "but not really understand what he stood for." Perhaps more concerning, Mr. McBride said research suggested more people may be dressing up as the Brawny Man at Halloween than expressed intent to actually buy the brand.
Brawny is the primary factor behind G-P losing 0.9 points of market share to 16.1% for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 6 in the $5 billion paper towel category, according to IRI. Overall, G-P's sales in the paper towel category fell 4% during the same period.
"Now he's coming back," Mr. Hughes said, "and inspiring people to be resilient, to stay giant, in the small things in life as well as the big things."