Queer Eye for the Towel Guy

A Kinder, Gentler Brawny Man

On occasion, a brand icon will wear out its welcome and need to be revamped or replaced. In extreme cases, the icon will have devolved into a bizarre and off-putting grotesquerie. I’m speaking here not just of Kirstie Alley (recently dropped by Pier 1 in favor of one of the Queer Eye guys), but also of the famous Brawny Man—Georgia-Pacific’s paper towel spokes-cartoon.

If ever anyone needed a Queer Eye-style makeover, it was the Brawny Man. Exhibit A: the risibly unfashionable denim shirt (open to midsternum). Exhibit B: the porn-star moustache. (And did they have to make the Web site brawnyman.com?) Exhibit C: the tufts of hair obscuring the ears (though the outdated look was much better than coifs past—the Brawny Man was still sporting a center part up until 1991).

Clearly, the Brawny Man had let himself go, style-wise. And yet G-P couldn’t just dump him—he’s way too famous. Brawny scores a remarkable 70 percent “unaided brand awareness,” according to the company, and that’s thanks in large part to the Man. So while a clean break was out, some major rejiggering was in order.

First, the physical changes. The Brawny Man—previously fair-skinned, with blond hair and green eyes—is now olive-skinned, with brown hair and brown eyes. According to Gino Biondi, Brawny’s director of marketing, this was done for greater appeal to a wide variety of ethnic groups.

Along with his new DNA, Brawny Man got a fresh shirt. The denim one was replaced with a flannel, and—crucially—a T-shirt was added below it. When Brawny did consumer research on the old Man, they found he was perceived as “very 1970s.” The undone buttons with the bare chest beneath were key elements driving this perception. Thus, shirtage.

The final physical change is the addition of a torso. The old Man was just head and shoulders, but the new guy shows off his beefy, barrel-chested frame. This change is about projecting more strength, says Biondi, because Brawny’s brand equity is all about strength.

Now, if we can just get the Pillsbury Doughboy on a low-carb diet. . . .

Oddly, I seem to recall the Brawny mascot wearing a flannel shirt years ago. Perhaps I’m confusing him with Hungry Jack.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave says:

    Ugh. The New Brawny Man just doesn’t look, well, brawny. He looks ‘stylish’.

    I think it’s the neck. And the small head.

  2. Dodd says:

    I also recall a flannel shirted Brawny guy. That’s my mental image of him, in fact. I never really noticed the denim at all. Perhaps that was another 1991 change….

  3. James Joyner says:

    Same here–I seem to recall a red flannel guy in the commercials. I was a kid when the product was launched, so I’m sure I was seeing the “original.” I never noticed the denim shirted version, either.

  4. They made the Brawny man a metrosexual!!!!!