Move Over Trump, Here Comes the Brawny Man

Paper-Towel Brand Creates Reality Show Starring Flannel-Clad Icon

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- The brawny man is coming to life as no ad icon ever has -- as star of his own reality series.
The brawny paper-towel man will star in his own online reality series.
The brawny paper-towel man will star in his own online reality series.


Hoping to reprise the cool factor of its acclaimed BMW Films viral effort -- but this time for a much lower-involvement and lesser-spending brand -- Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, has created an online-only reality series for Brawny marketer Koch Industries' Georgia-Pacific.

Trailer-style cable TV ads break May 29, along with print ads in July women's service magazines to drive women to the "Brawny Academy" series online, in which a quirky, campy Brawny man played by actor John Brennan hosts a deep-woods rehab for husbands who come up short pleasing their wives. The first of eight episodes, which range from 9 to 13 minutes long, will appear on BrawnyAcademy.com June 12, with subsequent episodes launching every two weeks.

In the series, the fictional strong-yet-gentle Brawny man shows eight real-life husbands the finer points of manliness, domestic chores and ballroom dancing. He teaches guys to throw hatchets, run deep in the woods while carrying a boulder and clean filthy windows with super-strong paper towels.

But in the best reality-show tradition, the episodes ultimately take a serious turn, including tearful farewells. "We used the humor to establish [Brawny man's] character," said Kris Wixom, art director with Fallon who along with his wife, Alisa Sengel Wixom, created the series. But he said the Brawny man becomes less superhuman and more real as episodes progress.

Producer John Feist, who has been a producer on network-TV reality series including "Survivor" and "The Restaurant," said he turned down a network gig for the online project.

He wasn't sure at first whether to take Fallon's offer, but said he was persuaded by his own wife's enthusiastic response to "this notion of husbands being sent off to Brawny camp."

"It's just an age-old problem that no husband or boyfriend helps out around the house," Ms. Wixom said.

A psychologist that Mr. Feist asked to follow the men post-camp has been "amazed by the results," he said. "We ... gave them a primal experience where they bonded."

Spending wasn't disclosed, but John Bowman, Brawny brand manager, said the series will be the year's major marketing program for the No. 2 paper-towel brand, with sales of $244 million in the 52 weeks ended April 16, according to Information Resources Inc. The online series is clearly a cost-effective marketing tool for Brawny, which spent only $7 million last year in measured media compared to $24 million in 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Brawny Academy is a big departure from norms in paper-towel marketing, where Procter & Gamble Co.'s Bounty has built its lead largely with side-by-side demos.

"We have to face reality and understand that the paper-towel category is viewed by consumers as highly commoditized," Mr. Bowman said. "Our approach hasn't been to focus on the technical attributes. It's to drive better brand affinity by making a more emotional connection."
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