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Brazilians Love to Hate Advertising. Or Am I Just Getting Old?

Trends and Insight 680 Add to collection

J. Walter Thompson CD, Gustavo Soares, on ‘the art of the silent bang’ and overhyped controversy in Brazil

Brazilians Love to Hate Advertising. Or Am I Just Getting Old?

I was reading an interview by Washington Olivetto [chairman of WMcCann Brazil] the other night, where he talked about his current perceptions about Brazil. He called it ‘desoptimism’ and said it is leading Brazilian creativity to a lack of brilliance.

I see it slightly differently. I think creativity in advertising reflects the state of mind of the country. You have your research to shape some of it, you have the client on edge with tremendous responsibilities and you have a new-found army of social network activists who are taking things too seriously.

You have to cause as much disruption as possible without having any disrupted people. It’s like watching Jimi Hendrix on mute. So advertising is becoming the art of the silent bang.

Recently, Skol, a popular beer which uses humour very aptly and in entertaining ways, made a bus stop ad for Carnaval, which was soon approaching. The joke in it was slightly inappropriate: “I left all my NOs at home”. Carnaval is a time of partying, which may include a lot of harassment and nagging between genders. Yes, you got it: some people viewed this advert as inferring to sexual violence. Moral debate ensued, the ads were taken down and replaced by the most opaque messages you could think of. And all that because the people I mentioned were actually two girls who got offended, vandalized the poster and posted pictures on Facebook.

How do you create a silent bang when you have a perfect ad running machine like Globo [Brazil’s behemoth TV network] on your side? Your spot on Globo’s soap opera will be seen by most of the Brazilian viewing population every night. The last of the 240 episodes of novela ‘Império’ scored 46 on Ibope Ratings (the second and third networks got 6.9 combined that evening). That’s over 60 million people watching your ad – half of a Super Bowl – and it’s simply crazy that you have to either play it safe every night or deal with the wrath of Twitter and Facebook.

The Brazilian ad industry is self-regulated. A very effective and respected organization called Conar was established during the military years to ensure that the old guys with medals wouldn’t censor ads like they censored music, newspapers, theatre and books. Conar had an important role to play in keeping Brazilian advertising wholesome. Instead of defining borders Conar helped to protect creativity’s space. During the first active years of Conar, Brazil ruled in film at the Cannes Festival and commercial breaks in Brazil were avidly waited by viewers.

The last part hasn’t changed: only now people are taking notes on every little comma and every joke and every horse that walks into a bar with a long face. It all gets debated. Conar has become a do-not-cross line.

The absurdity of it reached its peak when Conar had a campaign of its own to explain to people what it was about. I guess that sounds really strange: the Ad Council of advertising advertises to the public. But it helps to make it clear how important advertising is to Brazilians. So, one of the Conar spots featured a clown at a birthday party who gets confronted by a Dad. The ad went on from there, to say that Conar gets all kinds of complaints and judges on merit, so that you can trust Conar. Lo and behold, a Clown Union protested against it ridiculing the clown to make Conar's point. Talk about self-regulation.

There’s nothing as easy and as effective as a counter measure than ignoring an ad. Better yet: boycott the product if you feel offended. What I don’t get is our side, agencies and clients, running around scared every time someone reacts, as if the controversial piece had not been scrutinized, dissected before going to air, with ever hole in every letter focus-grouped to death.

 Advertisers want to get noticed and loved, because that means business. But we must (quickly) get used to the fact that that as in all conversations, the ones we want to have with consumers will include a lot of criticism. Even contempt. We should listen, but not necessarily agree.

After all, it's a lot simpler to be brilliant in 140 characters than in 30 seconds and in front of millions.

Gustavo Soares is Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson

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Wunderman Thompson Colombia , Tue, 17 Mar 2015 16:25:30 GMT