Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brand Brazil: People, Promise and Problems

Hi everyone-

I just received the transcript from my address in Sao Paulo August, 2014.  The event: Brasil: multiplas identidades.  I thought I would share it with you.  Obrigado to my good Brazilian friends at ESPM for the invitation.

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First of all, it is a real pleasure to be here. It’s great to be back in Brazil!  I’m a big fan of your country. I actually love it. 

For  each of the last twelve years, I’ve brought a group of undergraduate and MBA students down to Brazil and I’ve also taught some Brazilians ESPM university who come up to Canada on an exchange program.  It’s been wonderful sharing my love for your country with my McGill students… and having the Brazilians experience my country that I love - Canada.

It is always interesting to hear what my students think about Brazil before coming down. I love asking my students: “Why do you want to go to Brazil?"

Any guesses what comes to mind?  << audience: beaches, beautiful girls, and soccer>>

You got it: “The ‘praia’...  the beaches.”  A lot of this imagery relates to endless sandy beaches and palm trees in the hot tropical sun.  Any mention of Brazil during a Canadian winter’s day and there is a feeling the sand beneath their toes and the warm sun glowing on their skin.


All right, so that’s the most common response...

Then the male students usually chime in with something else...  I heard some of you shouting this out earlier... <>

Is it that predictable? Brazil has this image of “mulheres lindas.. mulheres bonitas…. beautiful girls”.  There are visions of bronzed toned beach clad-women hanging out on the beach. And if the Brazilian girls aren’t tanning on beach, they are wearing bright Samba Carnival outfits dancing in the streets.


And like you said, futbol.  Makes sense right? After all, Brazil is the mecca of futbol.


Well, some folks image the two being combined. 


Then I ask the guys and girls what else is cool and interesting about Brazil.  Their next thoughts usually nods to the Amazon, rich natural ecosystems - and bountiful biodiversity.



So my students are excited about going to Brazil- and it is not too long before their parents decide to check out what is travel like in Brazil.  So when they search “travel in Brazil”, Google returns images like these:


 If they search a little longer, the parents usually end up at the Canadian government web site.  Check out the screen here- about how my government introduces your country for travel in Brazil. Can we see that, please, on the screen?  Read along with me…


“BRAZIL- Exercise a high degree of caution”. This is the first page.  “You should exercise a high degree of caution due the high crime rates and regular incidences of gang related and other violence“.
Let’s go to the next page… Security. Oh boy. This talks about the police in pacification and “favelas”.  “There is violence everywhere including major thoroughfares. Remain vigilant at all times… Incidents of gang-related violence continue to pose a threat…violent incidents and armed clashes between police forces and alleged criminals…Exercise a high degree of caution at all times and avoid travelling alone, especially at night.”

The next page, we can check out crime… “The use of firearms is common… Victims have been seriously injured or killed while resisting. Then, their street crime includes pickpocketing, mugging, purse snatching. Tourists are a target. Kidnappings and carjacking occur throughout the country; armed robberies at restaurants is a growing issue...”


Keep reading with me.  My government discusses civil unrest, political and labor strikes, and  common demonstrations.  It warns about damaged roads and terrible driving, and poor infrastructure.


Not surprisingly, then I get call from some parents.  “Johnny or Susy wants to go to Brazil. I just read what the Canadian government says about travel in Brazil.  And you, professor… you want to go to Brazil- and take a group of students with you?”

My response is an unequivocal “yes”.  Over the years of getting to know Brazilians, studying your companies, and researching with your professors, I have developed a richer understanding and appreciation for the people and the place. And, I believe not only in the people of Brazil, but I believe strongly in the promise of Brazil.  I also have a little bit of a different perspective on the problems of the country, because there are some... 

I believe that the people of Brazil are some the most amazing people in the world. It’s only in this country, where I visit a university and meet the professors – and every single professor, every single one that I meet says this: “Hey, why don’t you come to my house? We’ll talk about branding… We’ll make you some dinner. Come meet the family. We make the best caipirinhas. Oh your wife is in town.  Even better.  Bring your wife too.”

Amigos, that is not conventional hospitality.  These are genuinely heart-felt and friendly invites. This warmth is a unique and key characteristic of the Brazilian people. I’ve seen it- I’ve experienced it – I’ve felt it - not just from the ESPM professors, but from the extremes of the country. Here’s what I mean.

Earlier this week, I met with one of the titans of Brazilian business. After having a great conversation with him about his brand he said, “Hey, it was great meeting you Bob. You know, it was so much fun talking that I’m running a bit late. Let me drop you off at your hotel.” I expected to be driven in a car but he was a lot more literal.  I ended up being dropped off via helicopter to the roof of my hotel. This from someone I just met. To people from anywhere else, this would be a bit bizarre. But to people who know Brazil, they find that this is the Brazilan way.  In this case, this is hospitality from the extreme Brazilian wealthy.

On the other extreme, I’ll never forget the very first time I was in Brazil. I was in Rio and I frequently spoke  to one of the maids who just started working at the hotel.  One day she said, “My parents have never met a ‘gringo’.  I’d like to invite you to come over to our house for dinner.”  I thought : “This is going to be a great experience”. I hopped on a bus with her for over two hours, going from Copacabana to I don’t even know where I was.  But when we arrived, I entered a house that had a dirt floor. It didn’t have running water. I knew if I’d eat there I’d be probably get sick, which I did. But their hospitality was unbelievable. I was an extra mouth to feed that night- which no doubt came at a great sacrifice for the family. But in Brazil this happens. It has never happened to me in any the other countries that I visited…  There’s a warmth and an energy in the blood people that defines the Brazilian.  It’s wonderful.

I have to also say that as a population, you’re not perfect.  You guys are extremely disorganized. I took my wife…We had heard about the opening up this temple, King Solomon’s Temple.  It was in the second day of the opening.  Your president Dilma had just been there the day before, and so we thought: “It’s probably a good time to go. Let’s go check it out!”  So we went there and there were tens of thousands congregating on the streets surrounding the temple.  You could not tell where the lines began or where it ended. You couldn’t even get a sense of which direction anything flowing. Then out of the blue some woman appeared on the street said “follow me”.  Then everybody followed her but there was no reason to really follow her. She didn’t appear to have any official designation and she certainly didn’t appear to be in a position of authority.  After about 4 hours of waiting in line, we eventually arrived at the Temple entrance, and I looked at my wife. We started laughing. By the way, she’s also a big fan of your country and  she summed up the Temple experience this way: “This is so Brazil.  Stuff eventually works out and gets done … but it gets done in some crazy way that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.” So that’s a little bit about the pulse of the people – who I think are really incredible here.

Then there is the promise of Brazil.  For me, as a brand guy, this relates directly to brands. I am blown away by how many good companies there are down here and how their stories are not told internationally. “Chili Beans” is a spectacular story in this country and starting to make some headway into other countries. It has a very progressive way of doing business. It designs and markets fast fashion sunglasses using its own distribution network. If it was an American company, this brand will be all over the world by now. Such a terrific company, terrific story – selling Pepper in the Veins.  I’ve seen the same with “Antarctica Guaraná”. This is a magical soft drink and yet you only get it here and a few Portuguese stores around the world.  A taste like this- smooth and sweet, with imagery of Amazonia’s guarana berry boost should be popular around the world… And speaking of Amazonia, not a lot of people outside of Brazil have been exposed to Natura.  Here is a brand that is endowed with natural purity and epitomizes sustainability. You don’t need a phd in marketing to appreciate the importance of these characteristics.  It is a world leader… Then there are smaller companies like Darling Lingerie or Aramis mens-wear… These are true success stories. By rights, these should be expanding around the world. These are the stories that represent the promise of Brazil…

I mentioned that my perspective on the problems of Brazil is a little bit different. The problems that my government outlined earlier – yeah, they’re there and they do need to be fixed. But these problems also exist in other countries.  The trouble is that they take up too mind mindshare of brand Brazil… and this holds back the promise of the country.  I'm not suggesting this is a be-all-end all solution for the countries problems, but I feel this is a perspective that can help.  Here’s what I mean.

One thing that surprised me was when I came down for at Copa do Mundo time. I asked some Brazilians: “Are you excited about the World Cup?” Most of the people I asked- from Cariocas to Paulistas to Natalese – were down on it.  From cab drivers to the bell-boys in the hotel, from the professors to CEOs, there was a damper on the World Cup and the Olympics. These are the premiere world events that attract hundreds of millions of excited viewers.  But a lot of Brazilians are saying:  “You know what part of me wants Brazil to win, part of me wants Brazil to loose.”   I don’t really get that.  But they explain if Brazil loses in the World Cup, something might change in government.” So, rather than rallying behind the country and  pumping up some of the best things in the country- the heart of people and the promise… the country looked internally to its political problems.  The narrative became negative. So instead of telling its own positive story to the world, the country focuses inward on its problems. The result?  Brand Brazil has its narrative told by other people-  people who neither have a vested interest in seeing Brazil succeed nor understand the promise of the country. In turn, the story of Brazil looks less appealing to investor and tourists. News on Brazil seems to be disproportionately anchored in the nation’s problems.

But the lack of Brazilian narrative is not just this year. I remember being here in Sao Paulo far in 2006. There were some problems with between police and some gangs.  And that was the only major news story I saw coming out of Brazil pretty much the entire year.

So my point is this: Brazil needs to reclaim its own narrative around its people, its energy, and its promise. It needs to tell the world about its world-class institutions like ESPM, its progressive consumer brands like Chilli Beans, Natura, Antarctica, and all the Darlings out there… These are stories that need to be told about a wonderful country… full of wonderful people…and tremendous promise.

So after coming down to Brazil with more than 250 students over the last decade or so – they get to experience your country. They’ve met Brazilians.  They’ve fallen in love with the Brazilian people.  They’ve visit your companies.  They believe in Brazil’s promise.  They see some of Brazil’s problems, but storyline Brazil gets overwhelmed by the positive.

I guess the biggest compliment that they could ever have for Brazil is when I asked them the last question of the year: “Would you come down here again?”

Every one of them responded, “in a heartbeat”.

3 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree with you more! Cannot wait to go back

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  2. Same again, A BIG THANK YOU. Truly a life saver.................TGI Group one of the Best Hotel Management Company in South India. Our Company a respected brand with excellent pedigree for strong sales, management focus & marketing infrastructure.

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  3. I saw your speech last summer. Wonferful. Obrigado.

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