Advertising Educational Foundation

[Editor's Note: This article is a part of ADText.]

Fig. 1. A Recent Example of Brazilian Creativity in Advertising []
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Fig. 1.

A Recent Example of Brazilian Creativity in Advertising [Source]

1. Brazil Is Different

Read about the Creative Revolution in American advertising led by Bill Bernbach in ADText.

Brazil enjoys an international reputation for producing some of the world's most creative advertising. The mere mention of Brazil to advertising professionals evokes images of innovative, appealing print ads and commercials—many that have taken top prizes at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and other international competitions. A creative revolution that rivals Bill Bernbach's Creative Revolution of the 1960s took place in Brazil in the 1980s and 1990s. This chapter explores some of the factors giving rise to the high level of creativity in Brazilian advertising and examines some recent campaigns that reflect the Brazilian style of advertising. inline graphic inline graphic

2. The Context—The Place of Advertising in Brazilian Society

Generally speaking, Brazilians like and admire advertising, especially when it is entertaining. It is accepted and tolerated to a much higher degree than in the United States, and there are few, if any, significant groups that attempt to counter it. Marcio Moreira, Vice Chairman and Chief Talent Officer of McCann Worldgroup, and native Brazilian, puts it this way:

The Brazilian public is a sucker for advertising! The cynicism, the skepticism, the questioning, the "I don't buy that" attitude is still not there. It's an environment in which advertising people are stars.1 inline graphic inline graphic

São Paulo banned advertising billboards from the city's streets beginning January 1, 2007. These photos and this documentary give a sense of what a world without advertising looks like.

However, much like the United States, advertising is ubiquitous in Brazil. Familiar venues for advertising include television, billboards and signs in city streets, magazines, newspapers, and electronic media. Evening soap operas (telenovelas) are extremely popular and, along with sporting events, especially soccer, provide some of the most coveted advertising space. inline graphic inline graphic

Models as well as producers of advertisements often achieve celebrity status in Brazil. Gossip magazines report on the private lives of top advertising executives, adding to their celebrity status. Washington Olivetto, a well-known advertising executive, was kidnapped and held for ransom for nearly 2 months in 2002. Gisele Bündchen, a top model who appears in her own company's advertisements for sandals (see Figure 1), is among the most recognizable people in Brazil. There are even rumors that a well-placed advertising executive may shortly run for presidency in Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

The regard with which advertising is held, the public's acceptance of it, and the celebrity status of advertising stars set a backdrop against which Brazilian advertising manages its creative verve. inline graphic inline graphic

Nowadays ad agencies in Brazil include three major types. First, many well-known multinational agencies like BBDO, DDB, Draftfcb, Grey, JWT, Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson, Ogilvy, TBWA, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Y&R have a strong presence in Brazil and service multinational accounts as well as some local ones. Second, there are many smaller home-grown agencies whose clients are primarily local. Third, there are a small number of extraordinarily successful Brazilian agencies (including Africa, Almap, DM9, and W/Brasil) that grew up in the last two decades and enjoy distinction as some of the world's most creative agencies. São Paulo is both the primary business capital of Brazil and the nerve center of Brazilian advertising. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 2. The Creative Department at McCann Erickson in São Paulo []
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Fig. 2.

The Creative Department at McCann Erickson in São Paulo [Source]

3. The Run-Up to the Creative Boom

In 1929, the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency of New York opened an office in São Paulo, bringing with it the international advertising standards of the time that included the latest market strategies and research techniques. The ostensible reason for this expansion into Brazil was to service its major client, General Motors, which had just opened a manufacturing plant in Brazil. Similar GM plants and accompanying JWT offices were opened in more than 20 locations around the world during the 1920s. Another American agency, N.W. Ayer & Son, established offices wherever the Ford Motor Company had its manufacturing plants. McCann Erickson, whose client was Standard Oil, soon followed. inline graphic inline graphic

Although GM and Ford were competitors, both held out hopes that the American automobile would become the world standard. In order to reach this goal, they wanted their advertising to reflect the details of local customs, landmarks, language patterns, and fashion sense. Even the license plates on the vehicles had to match local regulations. This movement into South America with plants and ad agencies to service them marked a move from the simple translation of American-made ads into Spanish and Portuguese that had characterized ads for American products up to this time. inline graphic inline graphic

The establishment of Brazilian offices was no simple matter for the American agencies. Typically one or two expatriates opened the office and began the search for local managers and creative talent. Since they were unable to find people trained specifically to manage ad agencies or to create ads, they hired managers who had been trained in law, journalism, or finance and creative people from the world of writers and artists. As a result, the advertising from this period tended to be rather formal, literary, and stylized. Typical ads showed products and consumers in highly idealized situations. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 3. A General Motors Ad Made in Brazil in the 1930s []
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Fig. 3.

A General Motors Ad Made in Brazil in the 1930s [Source]

Although JWT, Ayer, and other American agencies initiated a shift in both the tone and style of Brazilian advertising, their influence was actually short lived. The Great Depression led to the closing of Brazilian and most other foreign GM and Ford manufacturing plants and, in turn, the American advertising branch offices. It was not until after World War II that foreign agencies opened or reopened offices in Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

Brazil, however, remained more or less a closed market for goods produced outside the country until the 1990s when a shift in economic policy resulted in a regrowth of involvement in international and global markets both in terms of what Brazil produced and purchased. In addition to companies like Coke, McDonald's, and Sony that sold less expensive items, Brazil became in the 1990s a market for luxury consumer goods and top international brands like Gucci, Chanel, BMW, and the like. inline graphic inline graphic

Read about favelas and their history and role in Brazilian society. Or read a review of the Brazilian movie City of God (2002) and its portrayal of life in Rio.

As elsewhere in the world, the economy drives advertising in Brazil. Today Brazil has the world's 9th largest economy and a population of over 183,000,000 people. There are great differences within Brazil—from extraordinarily wealthy consumers in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to the urban poor of the favela slums and remote rural areas of Amazonia. inline graphic inline graphic

Today, television operates as a force to unite Brazil's diverse population. Most programs are, of course, sponsored, and, thus, accompanying advertisements play an important role in constructing common values, desires, and lifestyles in Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

4. Why Is Brazilian Advertising So Creative?2

When Marcello Serpa, 45-year-old Partner and Creative Director of the Almap/BBDO agency in São Paulo and one of Brazil's most famous admen, talks about the history of creativity in Brazilian advertising, he begins with the 1960s when the media outlets for ads, especially television, began to assume their present forms. Rather than creating advertising space to accommodate demand as happened in some other countries, the ratio of commercials to programming on Brazilian national television was fixed from the beginning. Airtime has always been sold in blocks to ad agencies, and this fact has produced a highly predictable and relatively stable media situation. inline graphic inline graphic

The most popular programming continues to be the evening news and the telenovelas that run at 7 and 8 o'clock. It is difficult to overstate the loyalty to and interest in the telenovela in Brazil. Faithful audiences include housewives, domestic workers, laborers, office workers, men as well as women, and they generally cut across social classes and categories reaching perhaps 90% of households. Whole families arrange their days so as not to miss the nightly episodes. Viewers become involved in the plots, frequently imitating the actors and discussing the comings-and-goings in the stories with their friends, families, and neighbors. The associated commercial slots form nearly perfect media opportunities for advertisers. In addition, many products are used and talked about in the soap operas themselves, making product placement a familiar and highly successful marketing device. Other great loves of the Brazilian people are soccer and carnival—both of which create important advertising venues as well. inline graphic inline graphic

Beto Rockfeller (1968), Helped Launch the Telenovela Phenomenon in Brazil []
Video 1.

Beto Rockfeller (1968), Helped Launch the Telenovela Phenomenon in Brazil [Source]

Against this background, a creative boom began in Brazilian advertising in the 1960s. Alex Periscinoto, a co-founder of the Almap agency, spent time in New York in the early part of the decade working with Bill Bernbach, father of the American Creative Revolution and the most influential figure in American advertising in the 1960s. A few years later, three Europeans, Roberto Duailibi, Francesc Petit, and José Zaragosa, founded DPZ, an advertising agency that brought a European feel and sophistication in art to Brazil. These two movements came together in Brazil—modern advertising techniques based on Bernbach's revolutionary style with beautiful layouts and exquisite photography from the European advertising tradition. The combination ignited Brazilian creativity. inline graphic inline graphic

During the 1970s, young creatives from DPZ and Almap began founding agencies of their own, effectively spreading the movement around the major cities of the country. The Brazilians continued to pay attention to other national advertising trends, from which they drew further inspiration. At the same time, Brazilian advertising began to address consumers in a more colloquial voice rather than continuing the more formal language used in the past. This brought advertising closer to consumers and they responded positively to ads that spoke to them like they talk to their friends. Serpa describes this new style as "very engaging, humorous, and 'very Brazilian.'" inline graphic inline graphic

When multinational corporations began coming to Brazil, especially in the 1970s, they generally had difficult times importing the commercials that went along with their products. Many felt that they could simply use a U.S. or Mexican commercial (with language changes, of course), but this approach tended not to work. They quickly learned that commercials made by Brazilians were different. At the same time, Brazilian creatives organized a creative club, Clube de Criação de São Paulo, which recognized certain stylistic standards in music, humor, and language. inline graphic inline graphic

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Brazilian market was generally closed to foreign imports. When it opened up in the 1990s, imported cars, wine, and other luxury goods from abroad became available. Multinational corporations began buying Brazilian businesses and using them to extend their global reach. As consequence of this transformation of the Brazilian market, the advertising industry also changed. The foreign owners could not understand the language, humor, or style of Brazilian advertisements. Moreover, the multinationals wanted campaigns that would work throughout Latin America, not just in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

Brazilian advertising thus faced two critical issues in the 1990s—having campaigns that would work all over Latin America, and looking toward the possibility of winning international awards that would garner increased attention and ultimately more business. A major obstacle inhibiting achievement of either goal was the Portuguese language, which, although the official language for Brazilians who constitute 51% of Latin American population, is typically unknown in the other 12 countries of South America. This linguistic block precluded others understanding and admiring even the most brilliant copy. Moreover, puns, jokes, and other forms of language play did not translate well. Thus, Brazilian advertising became much more dependent on visual communication. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 4. These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words []
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Fig. 4.

These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words [Source]

Fig. 5. These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words []
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Fig. 5.

These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words [Source]

Fig. 6. These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words []
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Fig. 6.

These Print Ads Make Primary Use of Visual Communication over Words [Source]

Brazil had begun winning international awards for its advertising as early as the 1970s. This continued through the 1980s and emerged as a major trend in the 1990s. An example of this early award-winning advertising from the year 1987 is the commercial for Kaiser Beer created by the DPZ agency. According to Serpa:

The commercial expresses insights that every beer drinker knows and is a good example of how Brazilian advertising communicates through single, simple ideas that express brand essence. Understanding it does not depend on knowledge of the Portuguese language.3 inline graphic inline graphic

This 1987 Kaiser Beer Commercial Won International Approval for Creativity []
Video 2.

This 1987 Kaiser Beer Commercial Won International Approval for Creativity [Source]

During the 1990s, a new generation of creative people who had established reputations from the previous decade moved on to found or head their own independent agencies.4 The best known of these are Washington Olivetto, Nizan Guanaes, and Marcello Serpa. Each of their agencies was a center of excellence, and each competed with the others for clients. This frenetic competition eventually led to these agencies trying to outdo the others in terms of creativity, the most important yardstick for which would be the prizes won in international competitions. inline graphic inline graphic

Many creatives felt stifled by the constraints of their clients' needs and strategies, and thus emerged the phenomenon of creating commercials strictly for the international competitions. Most of these commercials never aired even a single time, but several picked up international prizes for their extraordinary creativity. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 7. This "Ghost" Ad for Spicy Catsup Won a Gold Lion at Cannes in 1999 []
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Fig. 7.

This "Ghost" Ad for Spicy Catsup Won a Gold Lion at Cannes in 19995 [Source]

Today, the practice of producing fake ads has declined significantly. However, in its heyday it provided an important means for ambitious young creatives to express themselves and show off their talents. In many cases, it also meant that some small companies that were approached and offered free or low cost advertising benefited as well. In response to a backlash from those in the ad industry who felt that only actual commercials should be included in the competitions, these virtually free commercials promoting small companies began to be aired once at agency expense, thereby meeting the technical requirement of authenticity. "Ghost" (or fake) advertisements continue to be an issue not only in Brazil but also in many other countries. inline graphic inline graphic

5. Selling Corn Flakes to People Who Skip Breakfast

Leo Burnett, founder of the famous Chicago ad agency that still bears his name, once defined advertising as "selling corn flakes to people who eat Cheerios." He referred to the idea that a great deal of contemporary advertising serves to encourage people to switch the brand of a product they already use. But what would Burnett say to those who want to sell corn flakes to people who don't eat breakfast? In 1984, the Kellogg Company set out to do that in Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

A significant breakfast is not a part of Brazilian culture, certainly not an American-style breakfast that includes breakfast cereal. This did not stop Kellogg from attempting to make it so. J. Walter Thompson/Brazil advised Kellogg to use product placement in telenovelas as a strategy to entice potential Brazilian consumers. They based their reasoning on the fact that consumers tend to imitate the actors in telenovelas. inline graphic inline graphic

However, the plan backfired. Unfamiliar themselves with the idea of breakfast cereal with milk, the script writers for the soap opera got it all wrong:

The episode involved a young swimming prodigy whose father dragged him out of bed at 4 a.m. to train. "The father woke him up and gave him Sucrilhos [Frosted Flakes] and the sleepy boy sat in bed eating them out of the package," one Kellogg product manager says. "This is not the way Kellogg wanted to teach Brazilians to eat a nutritious, complete breakfast …. We want cereal eaten in the correct way. You put it in a bowl and eat it with milk. We don't want people eating it out of the box or giving it to their dogs."6

Admitting its faux pas, TV Globo refunded Kellogg's money. inline graphic inline graphic

A later episode of another popular soap opera tried the strategy again. This time, the writers and producers had been briefed extensively on the "correct" way to eat cereal. According to Advertising Age, this episode overdid the placement by scripting the story around a research company that conducts discussion groups with families about the importance of breakfast and nutrition. inline graphic inline graphic

Eventually, the writers and producers got it right and continued placements of cereals in telenovelas helped introduce and increase sales of Kellogg products in Brazil. inline graphic inline graphic

6. The Body Beautiful in Brazilian Advertising

I was once in Cannes and some people in the audience asked me, "Why do you always have so many exposed bodies in Brazilian advertising?" I answered, "Because we like it!"7

—Marcello Serpa

What does the rest of the world think about when they think about Brazil? Sex, the body, beautiful people, and soccer.8

—Nizan Guanaes

We are a blend of many races and that makes us creative, sensual, musical, talented, and good-humoured.9 inline graphic inline graphic

—Washington Olivetto
Fig. 8. The Female Body on Display in the Rio Carnival (2007) []
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Fig. 8.

The Female Body on Display in the Rio Carnival (2007) [Source]

It is hard to understate the importance of sex in Brazilian public life. It is discussed on TV shows, magazines, and everyday life. On the beaches of Rio and in the Carnival parades, sexuality is on display. One of the first things that foreigners notice in Brazil is the extraordinary focus on nearly nude bodies, sensual clothing, and overt expressions of sex. Most of the bodies on display are female, although emphasis on male beauty is also a part of Brazilian culture. inline graphic inline graphic

Brazil has the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world as many Brazilians, both male and female, attempt to achieve the bodies they desire. The focus on the body beautiful accounts for the enormous popularity of gyms and plastic surgeries in striving for physical perfection.10 inline graphic inline graphic

Advertising in Brazil leads as well as follows in emphasizing physical beauty. Referring to the idea that advertising reflects society, Serpa elaborates:

We just go to society and pick up what's happening there and put it back in advertising. It's not something we are ashamed of. It's on TV at prime time. Everybody's watching and people here grow up with that. You go to the beach, it's like that. Sex is definitely a part of our day-by-day discussions everywhere. It's very difficult for Americans or maybe the British to understand how it works, but the moment they live here, they get it. Advertising is linked to how society is structured, and advertising just reflects that.11 inline graphic inline graphic

Despite the amount of skin exposure in public life and advertising, complete nudity does not often occur. This story from Carnival 2007 in Rio conveys something of the Brazilian attitude toward nudity:

Brazil's Carnival has always been a raucous affair but beauty queen Angela Bismarchi took it a step further when her only item of clothing, a small patch of glitter, fell off mid-parade.

Bismarchi was the talk of the town on the second and final night of Rio de Janeiro's main Carnival parades, where full nudity is officially banned even though many outfits leave precious little to the imagination.

The young woman, queen of the Porto da Pedra samba school, was briefly left entirely naked but for a few feathers and some body paint when her "tapasexo," a tiny piece of material topped with glitter, fell away.

But Bismarchi quickly conjured up a thong and carried on dancing, later laughing off the incident with an old Brazilian saying: "A well prepared woman is worth two."12 inline graphic inline graphic

Here are two commercials that display bodies in ways that fit within Brazilian norms. At the same time, they step beyond the standards of propriety in many other cultures, including the United States. inline graphic inline graphic

Brazilian Standards for Displaying the Human Body Differ from Many Other Countries (1987) []
Video 3.

Brazilian Standards for Displaying the Human Body Differ from Many Other Countries (1987) [Source]

This Commercial Could Not Be Shown in the United States []
Video 4.

This Commercial Could Not Be Shown in the United States [Source]

The openness with which Brazilian ads treat the human body stands in stark contrast to a disdain for expressions of violence in ads. Serpa explained that Brazilians are accustomed to hearing about violence and corruption in society but that they do not like it in their films, TV programs, or ads. They want media to express alternatives and aspirations to the social problems of poverty, street crime, and corporate and government corruption. Serpa's rule of thumb for Almap/BBDO advertising is the following:

No guns, no thievery, no thieves, no assaults, no jokes about killing people, or death because people don't like it. People react badly—but a naked body or sexuality in the sense of erotic sexuality, it will go nicely. It's a cultural phenomenon. inline graphic inline graphic

7. Three Leaders in Brazilian Advertising

Social Life is the aggregate of all the individual men's Lives who constitute society; History is the essence of innumerable Biographies.13

—Thomas Carlyle

Perhaps nowhere is Thomas Carlyle's description of history a more apt description of the story of social life than in the case of contemporary advertising in Brazil. The stories of three careers—many would say the stories of the three most important figures in Brazilian advertising—encompass the motives, actions, and philosophies that have guided the emergence of Brazilian advertising on the world stage. inline graphic inline graphic

Washington Olivetto—Impressario, Leader, and the Most Decorated Adman in Brazil

Kidnapped on the streets of São Paulo and held for ransom for 53 days, Washington Olivetto turned up alive and returned to his work as head of W/Brasil, a well-known Brazilian ad agency. The year 2001 saw more than 300 businessmen kidnapped in Brazil, and perhaps it should come as no surprise that Brazil's most famous adman might be one of them. As luck would have it, his captors fled when one of them was arrested for other reasons and Olivetto engineered his own escape. inline graphic inline graphic

Today Washington Olivetto is a household name in Brazil. There is even a popular song named after him and his agency, W/Brasil. However, it is not the kidnapping and miraculous escape, but rather his creative leadership and role in mentoring a younger generation of creative artists—along with plenty of self-promotion—that accounts for his fame.

Olivetto has a writer's soul and a salesman's charm. He was, he says, reading and writing prodigiously at the age of five. Growing up, he imagined a future in journalism. But he also admired his salesman father, and was delighted to discover "that I could blend the style in which I wanted to write with the style of selling that I most admired—i.e., advertising. I decided to become a copywriter."14 inline graphic inline graphic

In 1972 at the age of 19, he won a Bronze Lion at Cannes for work done at a domestic Brazilian agency. He said, "The award gave me a lot of visibility and I was invited to work for DPZ, which at the time was the most brilliant Brazilian agency. I became creative director and stayed there for 15 years."15 DPZ provided a stimulating environment for Olivetto who produced more award-winning work and simultaneously mentored two rising stars in Brazilian advertising, Nizan Guanaes and Marcello Serpa. inline graphic inline graphic

The Swiss advertising group, GGK, invited Olivetto in 1986 to head their new office in São Paulo from which they would be handling the Volkswagen account. Under Olivetto's leadership, the agency's billings increased exponentially. In 1989, Olivetto and his business partners bought the company and renamed it W/Brasil. Today it is one of the best-known Brazilian agencies. inline graphic inline graphic

Over the course of his career, Olivetto has received more Cannes Lions than any other figure in the world of advertising—more than 50. He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the creator of the longest-running advertising campaign with the same leading character. The series, which appears in both print and TV, features comedian Carlos Moreno impersonating various celebrities, politicians and icons, including Che Guevara, and the Mona Lisa. Since its inception in 1978, there have been almost 350 different executions. inline graphic inline graphic

This campaign for Bombril, a household cleaner, is much loved by Brazilians who anxiously await Moreno's next impersonation. So popular are the spots that they are listed in programming guides. When the company attempted to change the campaign in 2004, the public demanded its revival. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 9. This Bombril Campaign Has Included About 350 Impersonations Since 1978 []
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Fig. 9.

This Bombril Campaign Has Included About 350 Impersonations Since 1978 [Source]

Fig. 10. This Bombril Campaign Has Included About 350 Impersonations Since 1978 []
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Fig. 10.

This Bombril Campaign Has Included About 350 Impersonations Since 1978 [Source]

According to Olivetto, the launch of this campaign occurred in 1978, a time when traditional gender roles were being questioned and men had never been shown with cleaning products. This cultural context along with the sheer creativity of the approach helped make the Bombril characters icons of Brazilian advertising. inline graphic inline graphic

The continuing creative energy at work in W/Brasil is illustrated by the agency's powerful spots for the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. The version of the commercial that appears in Video 5 has an English-language soundtrack for use in showing the work at international competitions and to non-Portuguese speakers. inline graphic inline graphic

This Hard-Hitting Message Is Made by Its Surprise Ending []
Video 5.

This Hard-Hitting Message Is Made by Its Surprise Ending [Source]

Nizan Guanaes—Maverick, Entrepreneur, and "Bad Boy" of Brazilian Advertising

Once a high-school exchange student in Iowa, Nizan Guanaes was born in the Brazilian state of Bahia. He now lives in a São Paulo mansion with his fashion-conscious second wife, who has her own career in Brazil's fashion world. Guanaes, like many of the rich and famous in Brazil, seldom travels without his chauffeur and armed car. Four bodyguards are in his employ. inline graphic inline graphic

Behind this glamour lies a man, driven like a Donald Trump, in his conquest of clients, advertising prizes, and a desire to build an advertising empire. Guanaes opened DM9, his first advertising agency, in 1990. Three years later, DM9 won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The award put both Brazil and DM9 on the "who's who" of world advertising. (The art director for the winning campaign was Marcello Serpa whose career is discussed below.) inline graphic inline graphic

The desire to win more international prizes led Guanaes, according to some of his critics, to start a trend that focused more on creativity than strategy. Guanaes went on to win other Cannes Lions. His campaign for Parmalat milk reflects the creative heights that DM9 reached during the 1990s. Critics of the creativity-before-strategy approach use this example to illustrate the process of a creative director looking for a brand where he could use his creative idea. Apparently, a creative director at DM9 had seen a display of photographs of children dressed like animals at a New York show. Guanaes liked the idea and wanted to adapt it to a campaign. The link was made with Parmalat in the mamiferos (mammals) campaign. inline graphic inline graphic

A Commercial for Parmalat by DM9 (1996) []
Video 6.

A Commercial for Parmalat by DM9 (1996) [Source]

Advertising Age tells this story about the Parmalat campaign:

Mr. Guanaes' long relationship with dairy producer Parmalat illustrates the way Brazilian creatives tap into the country's popular culture and Brazilians in turn embrace advertising. A decade ago, Parmalat milk ads by DM9 DDB featuring adorable children costumed as milk-drinking mammals, called "Mamiferos," were so popular that Mr. Guanaes challenged an American reporter over dinner to find anyone in the restaurant who wasn't familiar with his campaign. In a table-by-table poll, diners could all describe the campaign and a related stuffed-animal promotion that became such a craze a truckload of the fluffy animals was hijacked. (Most of the diners, along with the waiters, also could sing the jingle from a beer commercial for another of Mr. Guanaes' clients.)16 inline graphic inline graphic

After his successful campaign for Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, he sold DM9 to DDB Worldwide in 1997. In 2000, he became CEO of IG, an Internet service provider of which he was part owner. In 2002, he opened Africa, a Brazilian full-service advertising agency whose clients now include Philips, Mitsubishi, and Parmalat. inline graphic inline graphic

Omnicom is a holding company that owns several advertising agencies including BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide and TBWA\Worldwide.

Guanaes explains his contemporary goal: "I want to follow the model of a local Omincom… I don't want to go to the U.S. or Europe. I want to be the big guy in the small markets, a local giant." His goals beyond Brazil include other Latin American countries and Africa. According to Advertising Age, "In a land where the top creative admen are treated like rock stars, Nizan Guanaes is the leader of the band."17 inline graphic inline graphic

Marcello Serpa—Imposing, Artistic, and To-the-Point

News stories about Marcello Serpa, Partner and Creative Director of Almap/BBDO, invariably mention his movie-star good looks, his imposing height (6'6"), and his personability. He is also one of the stars of contemporary Brazilian advertising, the first to claim a Grand Prix at Cannes. The year was 1993, and Serpa was an art director at Guanaes's company, DM9, in São Paulo. The winning campaign was as simple as it was brilliant, a perfect embodiment of Serpa's philosophy of advertising—that it must express an idea in the simplest terms. inline graphic inline graphic

Born in São Paulo in 1962, Serpa began studying graphic design and commercial art in Munich, Germany, at age 18. He worked in a top agency in Düsseldorf before returning to work in Brazil. Serpa explains the significance of his early training and work in Germany:

[My] approach came out of my education in Germany… Brazilians are very anarchistic in their approach to creativity, while Germans are far more disciplined. They gave me the concept of reduction, by which I mean expressing an idea in the simplest possible terms. Every inessential element must be removed. At that time, straightforward, purely visual ideas were still unusual. [Famed copywriter] Neil French says I was responsible for helping kill long copy in advertising, though of course it never entirely went away.18 inline graphic inline graphic

Serpa's award-winning campaign was for a Brazilian soft drink, Diet Guarana. The two-page spread featured only a bronzed stomach (alternatively, female, lighter-skinned male, darker-skinned male) and a Diet Guarana bottle cap positioned at the same height as the model's navel on the opposite page. Serpa thinks that this campaign embodies his preference for visual over verbal communication, and he believes that it won because it communicated its message both simply and powerfully. inline graphic inline graphic

Fig. 11. Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign []
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Fig. 11.

Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign [Source]

Fig. 12. Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign []
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Fig. 12.

Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign [Source]

Fig. 13. Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign []
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Fig. 13.

Diet Guarana Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1993 for This Campaign [Source]

He says that the spark of the idea for this campaign came from his love of Richard Avedon's photography for Clinique products in the early 1990s. The ads were incredibly simple, but extraordinary "beauty shots" of the product. He came up with an idea for an ad that would include a set of beauty products, like the Avedon photographs, with the difference that Diet Guarana was included. This would say to the consumer: Diet Guarana is a beauty product, too. Although that idea never moved beyond storyboards, Serpa worked with it further, eventually coming up with the great-looking abs and the bottle cap. inline graphic inline graphic

Shortly after his win at Cannes, Serpa joined Almap/BBDO as partner with José Luiz Madeira. Serpa's background in art and design combined with Madeira's background in account planning produced an administrative team that boosted the agency almost immediately to the top of the charts. The agency's clients include Audi, Volkswagen, Pepsi, and Bayer—for whom Almap/BBDO has produced award winners. In just over a decade, the agency has racked up innumerable awards and is known worldwide for its creative and incisive advertising. inline graphic inline graphic

Serpa rejects the idea of "ghost" advertising and of campaigns that do not follow carefully the strategy worked out between agency and client. He thinks of his art as functioning in the service of promoting his clients' brands, and, if it does not do that, then no matter how creative it may be, it is an advertising failure.

I take [clients] along to the screenings [at Cannes and other festivals] and we sit there and sometimes watch 7 hours of commercials. The year we won a Gold Lion for Volkswagen, I had the client sitting next to me and he was clapping louder than anyone—he was so proud. He was happier than we were.19 inline graphic inline graphic

8. A Showcase of Brazilian Creativity

Author's note: As an anthropologist who studies the process of producing ads, I have found as a result of trial and error, a single question that elicits insightful and informative information from creative people who often want to let the work speak for itself rather than paraphrasing or decoding it. This rather simple and straightforward question is: "When you think back across all the work you've done in advertising, which is the single piece or campaign you are proudest of? Which one shows your best work?" I have asked this question of many people in the advertising industry in the United States and abroad and have never failed to be told an interesting tale that illustrates how creative people turn advertising strategy into great advertising. This section contains some of the stories I heard during a visit to Brazilian agencies during February 2008. The three stories were told by employees of McCann Erickson Worldwide in their São Paulo office in February, 2008. inline graphic inline graphic

Meriva—Selling a Car as a Fashion Statement

Eric Sulzer, a creative director, spoke about his pride in his agency's recent campaign for the Meriva car, a GM brand. Although the model offered a new transmission, the commercials promoted the car in terms of its fashionability instead of its technology. This unusual approach grew out of research.20 inline graphic inline graphic

Audio 1.

Eric Sulzer Speaks about the Positioning of the Meriva [Source]

Selling a Car as a Fashion Statement []
Video 7.

Selling a Car as a Fashion Statement [Source]

Yázigi Lessons—Avoiding Unfortunate Mistakes in Language

Adriana Cury, Chairwoman/CCO, tells how she created the idea for an award-winning campaign for an English-language school. The campaign features Brazilians making funny mistakes in their own language and asks whether the consumer might be making such mistakes in English. The campaign that Cury created aired five or six years ago when she worked at Colucci Propaganda. She then talks about the strategy and creative works for Yázigi a different language school, which is a client of McCann Erickson. inline graphic inline graphic

Audio 2.

Adriana Cury Speaks about Humor as an Advertising Technique [Source]

This Case Study Explains the Strategy and Creative Work for the Yázigi Language School in Brazil []
Video 8.

This Case Study Explains the Strategy and Creative Work for the Yázigi Language School in Brazil [Source]

MasterCard—Taking a Campaign Everywhere, Literally

Eduardo Hernández, a McCann Erickson creative director, talks about the agency's campaign for MasterCard that was designed to convince consumers that MasterCard is accepted just about everywhere in Brazil. The agency created a campaign around a cross-country trip on which a lone traveler started out with only his MasterCard. Commercials, blogs, and news stories tracked the "Viajante MasterCard" or jokingly, the "Masternaut," on his adventures and resulted in an all-time high awareness of the card's wide reach. inline graphic inline graphic

Audio 3.

Eduardo Hernández Talks about a Multi-Pronged Campaign for MasterCard [Source]

These Two Commercials Formed a Part of the "Masternaut" Campaign for MasterCard []
Videos 9.

These Two Commercials Formed a Part of the "Masternaut" Campaign for MasterCard [Source]

These Two Commercials Formed a Part of the "Masternaut" Campaign for MasterCard []
Videos 10.

These Two Commercials Formed a Part of the "Masternaut" Campaign for MasterCard [Source]

9. Exporting Creativity

Brazilian creativity has been exported to other countries in two important ways. First, the best of Brazilian advertising is seen around the world as a result of the various competitions in which it is entered. Creative people pay attention to all sorts of artistic work —movies, photography, music, art, etc—and frequently draw on it for their own inspiration. The latest Hollywood hit or music video or Brazilian ad that won at Cannes might turn up elsewhere—albeit transformed—just as the animal photographs in the New York show inspired the Brazilian Parmalat campaign (discussed above). inline graphic inline graphic

Second, Brazilian talent itself is sometimes exported—as, for example, in the case of Marcio Moreira, a native Brazilian ad man whose successes in advertising in the late 1960s and 1970s, first in Brazil and then in Latin America, landed him in 1980 at McCann's New York headquarters as International Creative Director for Coca-Cola. As his international team worked to find local expressions of Coke's global campaigns in the 1980s, Moreira strove to make the advertising fit into the local cultural contexts where it appeared. inline graphic inline graphic

In 1986, Moreira wrote and produced a commercial—or rather a series of commercials—around the idea of young people from all over the world meeting and singing about their future. The core idea followed Coke's theme of showing the soft drink associated with sociability and refreshment. inline graphic inline graphic

The creative genius of the commercial can be seen in the video. This is not an actual commercial, but rather a demonstration of how the base commercial can be adapted through clever editing to many different languages. A Portuguese language version for the commercial was used in Brazil and the handful of other Portuguese speaking countries. Similar adaptations were made for other languages—English, German, Spanish, Korean, etc. Spanish language versions were used in other countries in Latin America. inline graphic inline graphic

This Video Demonstrates the Potential Global Reach of a Base Commercial []
Video 11.

This Video Demonstrates the Potential Global Reach of a Base Commercial [Source]

This Spanish Language Version of "General Assembly" Was Used in Many Latin American Countries (1986) []
Video 12.

This Spanish Language Version of "General Assembly" Was Used in Many Latin American Countries (1986) [Source]

Thus, the creativity of Brazilian advertising is not simply limited to Brazil but also finds its way advertising trends globally. inline graphic inline graphic

10. Conclusion

Read about the BRIC countries and why many economists believe that the global economy depends on their future growth and well-being.

Brazil's position as a world leader in advertising creativity was earned through hard work, borrowing and remaking ideas from abroad, focusing on visual communications over the written word, and a generous portion of artistic talent. Many other national advertising traditions strive to imitate Brazilian advertising. Along with the other BRIC countries (Russia, India, and China), Brazil's economy is as vital to the global economy as its advertising tradition is to global marketing. inline graphic inline graphic

William M. O'Barr

William M. O'Barr is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University where he has taught since 1969. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Sociology and English. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern, Dalhousie, and Oxford Universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching by both the Duke University Alumni Association and Trinity College (Duke University). His course, Advertising and Society: Global Perspectives, is one of Duke's most popular undergraduate courses. His many seminar courses include Advertising and Masculinity, Children and Advertising, and The Language of Advertising.

He is author or co-author of ten books, including Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising, Rules versus Relationships, and Just Words: Law, Language and Power. He has conducted anthropological research in East Africa, Japan, and the United States. In addition to his interest in social and cultural aspects of advertising, Professor O'Barr has researched law in a variety of cultural settings.

In 2000, he founded Advertising & Society Review and served as editor from 2000 to 2005. He is author of which will consist of 20 units published as supplements to A&SR.


1. Interview with Marcio Moreira, February 6, 2008.

2. The author is grateful to Marcello Serpa who provided an oral history interview on which this section is based.

3. Interview with Marcello Serpa, February 15, 2008.

4. According to Serpa, the specific chronology is as follows. Washington Olivetto left DPZ to found W/Brasil in 1987. Guanes left W/Brasil in 1991 to found DM9 which he left in turn to run AlmapBBDO with José Luiz Madeira.

5. After winning, it was broadcast only once. DM9 DDB Publicidade, São Paulo.

6. Laurel Wentz, "Kellogg Awakens a New Habit," Ad Age 55 (1984), 26.

7. Interview with Marcello Serpa, February 15, 2008.

8. Rebecca Mead, "Dressing for Lula," New Yorker, March 17, 2003, 82.

9. Mark Tungate, Adland: A Global History of Advertising (Kogan Page, London: 2007), 223.

10. For more information on plastic surgery in the Brazilian search for beauty, see Alexander Edmonds, "'Triumphant Miscegenation': Reflections on Beauty and Race in Brazil," Journal of Intercultural Studies 28, no. 1 (2007), 83-97.

11. Interview, Marcello Serpa, February 15, 2008.

12. "Fleshdance in Rio," Sydney Morning Herald, February 20, 2007, downloaded from

13. 19th-century Scottish historian and philosopher, in his essay "On History," 1830.

14. Tungate, 221.

15. Tungate, 222.

16. Laurel Wentz, "Meet the Man Building the Omnicom of Brazil," Advertising Age, October 15, 2007, 10.

17. Quotations in text are from the Advertising Age article cited.

18. Marcello Serpa, quoted in Adland, 224.

19. Serpa, quoted in "What made Brazil a leader in advertising creativity?" "BBDO – GO" (2000). BBDO Guerrero Ortega official Web Site. Retrieved March 4, 2002, from no longer available online.

20. Two others speak in the recording, Adriana Cury, chairwoman of the agency, and William O'Barr, the interviewer.

Media Credits

Fig. 2 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Fig. 3 O Estado de São Paolo, May 10, 1935, 5.
Video 1 From the author's collection.
Fig. 4 From the author's collection.
Fig. 5 From the author's collection.
Fig. 6 From the author's collection.
Video 2 From the author's collection.
Fig. 8 © Marcelo Sayao/EFE/Corbis
Video 3 Courtesy W/Brasil.
Video 4 Courtesy W/Brasil.
Fig. 9 Courtesy W/Brasil.
Fig. 10 Courtesy W/Brasil.
Video 5 Courtesy W/Brasil.
Video 6 From the author's collection.
Fig. 11 From Clube de Criação de São Paulo.
Fig. 12 From Clube de Criação de São Paulo.
Fig. 13 From Clube de Criação de São Paulo.
Audio 1 From the author's collection.
Video 7 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Audio 2 From the author's collection.
Video 8 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Audio 3 From the author's collection.
Video 9 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Video 10 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Video 11 Courtesy McCann Erickson.
Video 12 Courtesy McCann Erickson.