When pulp and paper behemoth Georgia-Pacific acquired Fort James last year, it became the proprietor of the Brawny paper towel brand, and soon realized it had inherited a pop-culture icon. The smiling lumberjack logo, known as the Brawny Man, is frequent fodder for game-show trivia and even Jay Leno's Tonight Show monologues. The blonde beefcake has even been the object of Marge Simpson's housewife fantasies on the Fox animated series The Simpsons.
Unfortunately, at the time of the acquisition, Brawny was steadily losing market share, and needed resuscitation. "We realized that a lot of brand equity had not been utilized and cultivated in recent years," says Georgia-Pacific spokesperson Greg Guest.
Georgia-Pacific faced parallel challenges. It needed to transform itself from a commodities-based company to a consumer-products marketer, and simultaneously address the positioning of various brands it had inherited as a result of the acquisition. Brawny, emblematic of this dual effort, became a very public test of Georgia-Pacific's attempt to play the branding game.
"We have often been questioned about whether we have the marketing prowess to build products like Procter & Gamble,
The corporate communications group decided to leverage the story of Brawny as a pop-culture icon as a means of gaining coverage on Georgia-Pacific's corporate repositioning strategy. The company decided to offer the Brawny Man story exclusively to The Wall Street Journal.
"It's the kind of story the Journal always does well,
says Guest, whose team banked on the probability that other media would pick up on the Journal's lead, and thus cover the story.
A consumer-products analyst quoted in the Journal piece said the Brawny Man looks like a "1970s porn star.
When ABC's Good Morning America picked up the story, producers insinuated that there was a national search for a new Brawny Man based on the article's mention that Georgia-Pacific was temporarily replacing the porn-star-looking lumberjack with NASCAR icon Richard Petty as a special promotion.
"The question it raised was, 'What is the future of the Brawny Man?'" says Guest. "How do we keep the brand equity, but strengthen it?"
Moving forward, senior brand manager Michael Adams says Georgia-Pacific's primary effort is research. The Richard Petty test is currently being evaluated to determine if completely replacing the Brawny Man with an alternative iconic image was successful, or if it did any damage to the brand equity.
"We're trying to determine the ideal graphic representation of the Brawny Man and the Brawny icon, including rotating stars and sports figures,
How and whether to incorporate ethnically diverse images is also being tested.
"We have an in-depth plan that's being developed to do qualitative and quantitative research over the next six to eight months so we can implement new changes in 2003,
says Adams. The research will include focus groups testing new visual concepts, and an RFP that will go out in the next few months.
PRWeek will revisit the Brawny Man rebranding campaign in the coming months.