FABIO RETURNS, MORE VISIBLE THAN EVER

Romance Novel Cover Model has TV Ads, Clothing Line and Movie Deals

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Fabio’s back.

The 45-year-old Italian with the great pecs and long locks who largely disappeared from the airwaves more than five years ago is suddenly ubiquitous, with a widely

Aside from new ad work, Fabio plans to expand his line of women's outerwear sold at Sam's Club. Click to see larger photo.

publicized starring role in Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s first-ever Super Bowl spot, a new set of ads for Unilever’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spread (a reprisal of his seven-year stint as the margarine’s spokeshunk) and a pivotal part of the launch plans for Procter & Gamble Co.’s new Oral-B Sensitive Advantage Toothbrush.

He’ll even be hawking women’s underwear.

Clothing line
Plans are under way to expand the former romance novel cover boy’s successful line of women's outerwear sold at Sam’s Club called -- what else? -- Fabio into a full line of apparel (including lingerie) and footwear for the ladies in another major retail chain beginning in July. There are also plans for the release of a TV movie, “Staar,” in which Fabio appears with fellow heartthrob Bill Clinton.

So how is it that the long-haired one-named wonder whose main claim to fame is posing for romance novel covers will seemingly pitch anything? It’s simple: he makes some women swoon and for those women -- and men -- who don’t, they at least get a good snicker.

Secret to his success
The secret to his success, Fabio maintains, is being “tongue in cheek, but not cheesy.” He understands, of course, that it’s a "very thin line when you play with romance, it can easily be cheesy. I try not to be cheesy.”

Marketers clearly see the dollar signs in playing off Fabio's debatably non-cheesy romantic image. After a six-year hiatus, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and its agency, McCann Erickson, New York, have brought him back the man who put the brand on the map to tout the spread’s improved formulation. TV ads that broke earlier this month feature an incredulous Fabio feigning shock at the idea that the improved product (with twice the sweet-cream buttermilk) is, “Better than the original?”

Lori Norian, associate brand manager of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, said qualitative and quantitative research show Fabio ranks “high on hunkiness” among other traits, like sex appeal and romance, which dovetails well with the brand’s core equity of how consumers fall in love with the brand's great butter taste.

Even after six years off the air hawking the margarine, Fabio, whose last name is Lanzoni, still gets stopped at the airport, at restaurants and on the street, he said, by fans of the ads, who scream out (as if they’re being original) “Hey Fabio ... I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Unilever also plans to tap into consumers' love of Fabio through a redesigned web site for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter that will feature a Fabio Magnetic Poetry Game and Fabio-Grams fans can send to their friends.

International fan club
Donnamaie White, founder of the Fabio International Fan Club, figured the spread brought him back because “I would guess sales drop[s] at were stupendous! Fabio can put a product on the map!” In fact, Information Resources Inc. numbers show the brand’s sales, at least for the past year, are down 3% to $328 million in food, drug and mass merchandisers.

P&G is clearly pinning its hopes on Fabio as one of a number of leads that can star in a customized romance novel consumers can create on a Web site (brushwithromance.com) on Valentine’s Day for its new toothbrush for sensitive gums.

Fabio’s 4-year-old clothing line has thrived, selling out every year, he said, prompting the pickup of an expanded lineup beyond its base jackets and coats this summer. Fabio underwear? Rest assured, it is only his name, not his face that will appear on them.

Fabio’s fame has turned out not to be at all fleeting, but to all his fans, beware: He is thinking of one day, eventually, cutting his hair. Would Fabio be Fabio with a crew cut? Only time will tell.

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