Not a Big Web Hit, Online Ad Program Still Finds Its Audience

Despite Low Numbers Women Respond Enthusiastically to 'Brawny Academy'

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The deal: This summer, Georgia-Pacific's Brawny line of paper towels launched "Brawny Academy," a web-based reality series that has become the brand's primary marketing vehicle this year.

The result: Viewership isn't breaking records and is less than executives hoped for, but the series is still making inroads with the women Brawny was targeting.

How to use Brawny paper towels, the manly way: Write poems to the little lady at home, big fella.

The Brawny Man may be a major brand icon, but as a rugged, flannel-wearing spokesman, he's still struggling to become a star.

Georgia-Pacific launched "Brawny Academy," a first-of-its-kind, online-only reality series featuring a brand icon as host, at June 12. Its finale, the eighth episode, goes up this week.

Shortcomings in the manly arts

In the episodes, which range from 9 to 13 minutes in length, a strong-yet-gentle Brawny Man, played by the ironic, deadpan and flannel-clad John Brennan, takes eight men chosen for their laziness, insensitivity and shortcomings in the manly arts to a backwoods camp for rehab.

Georgia-Pacific, a unit of Koch Industries, is putting most of Brawny's ad dollars around the effort this year. Whether it's paying off for the brand is debatable.

Neither G-P nor its agency, Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, is commenting on the traffic to the site yet, noting that it will remain up for the foreseeable future, allowing the audience to grow. Data reported by Amazon's Alexa suggest a total audience to date of around 150,000 -- not subtracting for any repeat visitors. That audience number is considerably smaller than a magazine ad or thinly viewed cable program.

"Quite frankly, I'd be pleased if we had a higher level of traffic," said Chris Lawrence, group account director for Brawny at Fallon. "But the thing that we take stock in is that those who are going to the site and have engaged in the content are having a really tremendous response and a real connection with the brand."

But web traffic isn't the only indicator of whether the series is working.

Brawny Man connects with women

The Brawny Man as reality star and reformer of slovenly men is moving women in ways marketer Georgia-Pacific has never seen before -- particularly in terms of their purchase intent and brand-affinity scores.

Indeed, total audience aside, "Brawny Academy" is producing some of the strongest consumer response G-P has ever seen, said Derek Schwendinger, associate manager, towel and napkin strategy.

To date, call-center contacts and e-mails related to "Brawny Academy" are 233% ahead of those generated by G-P's Angel Soft "Bathroom Moments" campaign from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide in 2005. That ad effort included airing commercials on ABC's top-rated "Desperate Housewives" and promotional tie-ins with the "Desperate Housewives" website, Mr. Schwendinger said, adding that "'Bathroom Moments' [an Effie award finalist] was a very successful campaign for us."

About a quarter of the hundreds of calls G-P has received regarding "Brawny Academy" are from women "asking for an opportunity to get their man on the show next season," Mr. Schwendinger said.

Moving the needle on purchase intent

"Brawny Academy" is also moving the needle on purchase intent and brand affinity among women who have seen it far more than any marketing campaign G-P has ever measured. "Against our target, purchase intent is up 14%," Mr. Schwendinger said. "One of the main goals was to show Brawny is a brand that supports women, and that metric is actually up 40% against our target consumer."

Mr. Lawrence notes that "Academy" viewers also give Brawny high marks as a versatile cleaning product -- no doubt because of product placements that show the towel used in just about every possible way, from shoe polisher to a medium for writing love poems to the women waiting at home.

The problem now is getting more women to see the Brawny Man in action.

After breaking a 60-second TV ad May 29 to preview the web series' launch, G-P put heavier weight behind 15- and 30-second ads in July, which drove site traffic above 5,000 a day, according to Alexa, though traffic later settled back to around previous levels. The marketer broke another round of heavier advertising Sept. 25 to coincide with the show's finale, Mr. Schwendinger said.

One way to increase viewership may be moving the "Brawny Academy" to TV, and Fallon now is in early-stage talks with cable networks about possibly doing so.

G-P won't likely make any decisions on the future of the series until it completes its evaluation of "Brawny Academy" in November or December, but Mr. Schwendinger said he expects the concept to live on in some form.

'Wildly happy' with the idea

"For us the trick at this point is more exposure, figuring out the communications-planning piece," he said. "The idea we're wildly happy with. Next year it's kind of tweaking how do you get more people engaged with it both passively and actively -- ideas like a message board, letting people send in video."

Talent restrictions in contracts for the current production prevented Brawny from making the videos downloadable -- a factor that has limited the viral impact and distribution to mobile media that might have brought more viewers. "That's something we certainly would look to pursue as we evolve this," Mr. Lawrence said.

Fallon did post shorts, outtakes and some deleted scenes, such as interviews with spouses and girlfriends of academy entrants, on YouTube earlier this month, but those scenes so far have gotten few viewers there.

If there were another season of the academy, a promotion on the front end to leverage the clear interest of women in nominating their husbands or significant others for rehab would be one clear way to get more mileage from the concept, both G-P and Fallon executives said.

"We have had some interest among the cable networks in taking this show and distributing it next year," Mr. Lawrence said.

"We'd be interested in pursuing anything that seems like a good fit for the brand and a good opportunity," Mr. Schwendinger said.
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