Brand Wars: Napkin fight gets Brawny

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Georgia-Pacific's Brawny brand is muscling out Quilted Northern as the company's premium napkin entry in a switch that is to be backed by the company's first TV support for the category in recent memory.

The realignment is one of many that Georgia-Pacific is making to sort out a stable of 11 tissue-towel brands assembled through two acquisitions in the past five years. Besides Quilted Northern napkins, the company is also discontinuing value-priced Coronet paper towels and launching premium-priced Brawny Shop Towels.

In all, analysts project the company will spend $50 million in combined media support in 2002 behind Brawny and Quilted Northern, a 100-year-old brand name that continues in bath tissue. Backing Brawny napkins will be cable and network TV and local print ads breaking this spring from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, New York. Plans also include a yet-to-be-announced sports sponsorship, nationwide sampling, and coupons distributed online, in-store and in freestanding newspaper inserts.

"We're doing a lot of integrated programs," said Steve LeDeau, marketing director for napkins, "so the combined budget is going to be impressive."

Brawny napkins are 10% heavier and 15% thicker than Quilted Northern, and consumers rate them 60% softer, Mr. LeDeau said. Ads will focus both on strength and softness.

"There's definitely a consumer segment out there that doesn't like the everyday napkins that are the majority of the category," Mr. LeDeau said. "They feel that everyday napkins are not very sturdy and they tend to use two or three at any meal."

Georgia-Pacific acquired Fort James, maker of Brawny and Quilted Northern, in 2000, four years after the latter company's buyout of Fort Howard.

"With the shuffling around of these companies, we took a fresh look at the strategy," Mr. LeDeau said. "Consumer research has showed purchase intent was much higher for Brawny napkins than for Quilted Northern based on the name alone."

Fort James restaged Northern napkins as Quilted Northern in early 2000 to gird against Procter & Gamble Co.'s launch of Bounty Quilted napkins later that year. But some retailers say neither brand has met expectations. Georgia-Pacific is the top napkin marketer with brands including Mardi Gras (value), Brawny (premium) and Vanity Fair (superpremium). But no napkin brand outsells private label.


P&G said its test of Bounty napkins in Charleston, S.C., in the late 1990s boosted category sales by 15%-18%. But in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3, 2001, covering the first year of Bounty's national launch, category sales were up only 1.2% to $500 million, according to Information Resources Inc. figures, which don't include Wal-Mart sales. Bounty sales beat Quilted Northern $28.2 million to $24.7 million. However, the brands combined for only a 10.6% share of the napkin market, as measured by IRI.

P&G backed Bounty with national TV and sampling from Havas Advertising's Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, New York. P&G spent $18.1 million through the first nine months of 2001 on Bounty Quilted napkins ads, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Fort James originally went with Quilted Northern as its premium napkin to play off the Northern franchise, which was in the napkin category for decades, Mr. LeDeau said. He added executives thought Quilted Northern, a premium brand that's No. 2 in bath tissue, would elevate the napkins' quality image.

"It really didn't work out that way," he admitted. "Most consumers thought: `Hey, this is a bath tissue brand.' The rationale behind it seemed to make sense, but there's a much stronger tie between the paper napkin and towel category."

Mr. LeDeau acknowledged that Quilted Northern got little support. He said that many retailers also never got the logic of extending a toilet tissue brand to napkins.

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