I'm not sure what's causing me more chagrin: that I didn't find out about Brawny Academy until now, four months after the webisodes aired (streamed? netted?), or that I had to learn about it from a French blogger who calls himself LeSniffy ("Avec Brawny, la real TV passe sur le web").
But maybe you've been out of the Brawny loop yourself. So here's the story:
Back in June, Brawny paper towels and napkins launched the first of eight episodes of a reality-fantasy show featuring eight hapless zhlubs whose wives or girlfriends handed them over for rehabilitation at the hands of Brawny Man. Yes, that Brawny Man--the one whose hirsute image, give or take a few makeunders, has adorned Brawny packages and kindled numberless housewifely fantasies since 1972. Wielding his peavey (it's not an ax, you know) and wearing his trademark plaid lumberjack shirt, Brawny Man leads the guys through a course designed to teach basic skills (toilet cleaning, jousting, dancing the merengue) and instill chivalry, respect, and romance into the souls of overgrown adolescents. Naturally, when the guys make a mess, there's a roll of Brawny paper towels nearby to do the mopping-up. Production values are remarkably high (Jason Striegel did the programming, and blogs about it here), and the guys seem to have been good sports about the whole thing. It's great fun to watch--high-speed connection is best, but not required--and even rather touching.
Brawny Academy is the latest manifestation of a shift in Brawny branding that began a couple of years ago. As Seth Stevenson wrote two years ago in Slate, Brawny Man started life as a mustachioed blond; in 2004 he became a clean-shaven brunet. He gained a T-shirt under his flannel shirt, and a full torso under the T-shirt. (Previously he'd been only a head and shoulders.) Most importantly, Brawny's parent brand, Georgia-Pacific, invested $500 million (you read that right) into something called Through-Air Technology, which makes the towels' fibers softer and more absorbent. To go with the softer towels, they made Brawny Man a sensitive, caring kind of guy. In 2005 they gave him his first Web vehicle, "Innocent Escapes." It sounds soft-core icky and it apparently flopped; I found references to it but no archival evidence.
A new actor impersonates Brawny Man in Brawny Academy, and he plays it--if I may say so--straight. This summer's webisodes are supported by some very clever marketing, including a downloadable field guide for husbands in need of housebreaking. And this just in: eBay is auctioning off a date with Brawny Man. The auction ends October 14 at 9:12:59 PDT; last I checked, there were 44 bids and a high bid of $910. That's a bargain, ladies--the boy can dance! All proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization Dress for Success Worldwide. Get your PayPal on!