This year, for the first time in the company’s history, Brawny will be featuring a woman on its packaging. The woman will be adorning limited edition packages sold at Walmarts across the country. She has curly brown tresses and red lipstick. Like her male predecessor, she wears that iconic red flannel.
Brawny’s new ad campaign comes in observance of Women’s History Month. Last year, the company brought together a cast of impressive, resilient women who succeeded against particularly stifling barriers in male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields for a video campaign. This year, Brawny has decided to extend this video campaign to its actual packaging, complete with a hashtag: #StrengthHasNoGender. In addition to creating a video campaign with a new cast of women, the company has partnered with Girls Inc. and has promised to funnel $75,000 to the organization with the endgame of helping "develop girls’ enthusiasm" for entering STEM fields.
Historically, the Brawny brand has been strewn with traditional notions of American masculinity. The mere name Brawny evokes the image of the burly lumberjack who swoops to the rescue of a domestic damsel in distress. Since the advent of the character of the Brawny man in the 1970s, he’s undergone some insignificant makeovers. He began as a pale man with an amber mustache, but in 2003, he shaved his beard, darkened his hair, and gained a more swarthy complexion. With the passage of time, he has grown more nondescript—he's now effectively a flannel-clad, headless torso.
Perhaps this history can explain why the introduction of a Brawny woman onto packaging is being treated like some seismically colossal shake-up. It has been met with warm reception in most corners of the internet. After all, Brawny's aims are unimpeachable upon first glance. It's a corporation maintaining the gloss of progressiveness.
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But isn’t it condescending to suggest that a woman’s strength is marketable only one month of the year? I realize I’m a man writing about paper towel rolls here, but if Brawny were serious about its sudden pivot, I’d hope they would keep this packaging around all year long.
What's your take on the new Brawny campaign and packaging? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.