Paper Towels and Politics: Brawny Replaced Iconic Man on Packaging


Brawny isn’t selling you paper towels anymore; the paper towel company prefers spreading liberal propaganda.

Brawny Man, the muscled lumberjack dressed in red plaid, has been an iconic symbol for the company for over 40 years. And to be fair, he still is. But for a brief moment, the Brawny man was replaced with a woman for a limited run of packages to commemorate women’s history month.

The seed for all of this was planted in 2015 when Brawny launched its “Stay Giant” campaign which, according to AdWeek, “de-emphasized the maleness of the mascot—by obscuring his face—in favor of a gender-neutral message of personal empowerment.” By 2016, Brawny added a new phrase, “Strength Has No Gender,” and started a hashtag campaign with it for International Women’s Day. The company released several ads last year of women wearing the plaid shirt and talking about their achievements in various male-dominated spheres, including tech and the military. This year, Brawny ramped up once more, replacing the lumberjack with a Brawny woman:

Once again, AdWeek points out: “[S]he appeared in the customary red-and-black buffalo-check shirt and in the hands-on-hips pose that consumers were used to. And while the new mascot’s face was shown only below the temples, this was clearly a woman—in figure, and down to the red lipstick. The eye-popping package—sold throughout women’s history month—was available only at Walmart.”

Of course, “clearly a woman” and her wearing “red lipstick” might be considered problematic because in this age of new liberalism, why must a woman be curvy and wear makeup? Isn’t that counterintuitive to the progressive message? “Clearly” the patriarchy is still making all the decisions over at Brawny.

Nevertheless, Brawny woman persisted and AdWeek approved:

It had been a long time coming. The Brawny Man had stood front and center on the package since 1974. The reason for his long tenure was that, through various haircut and wardrobe adjustments, a hunky guy had always been a metaphor for brand performance: He was strong, durable and dependable, just like you’d want your paper towels to be.

It’s anyone’s guess why it took so long for everyone to realize that a woman could also be all of these things. Last year’s “Strength Has No Gender” campaign finally cast women in place of the Brawny Man—but only in the media, not on the packaging. So when 2017 dawned, it was obvious what the next marketing step should be.

Marketing vice president for Georgia-Pacific, Brawny’s parent company, Laura Knebusch, said a woman on the packaging “became a way to put an exclamation point on the program” that started two years ago. 

“This year we wanted women to see themselves as strong and resilient, and one way to do that was to show them on the packaging,” she added.

And though it wasn’t an official endorsement, Brawny sent Ellen DeGeneres a one-of-a-kind package to really spread the message among progressives:

AdWeek says Brawny is “mopping up” with its gender diversity pitch, earning billions of social media impressions over the last year and sales increases of “up to 50% at select retailers.”

One thing is for sure: It’s quite clear from Brawny's official Twitter page that the company is no longer in the business of selling you paper towels. The new mission states: “Spreading resilience far and wide with sharp wit and bold inspiration.”

Exactly what you’re looking for in a paper towel.