The 2014 World Cup was a great opportunity for Brazil to re-brand

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: June 8, 2014

If you haven’t heard it by now, you soon will; Mas Que Nada by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 will be this summer’s soundtrack. As the World Cup in Brazil fast approaches, the 1963 Jorge Ben song is being ubiquitously employed by television programmes, internet adverts, cafes, bars – in fact, everywhere.

One translation of the song’s title is ‘whatever’, a perfect slogan for a song that seems to personify the stereotypical view many of us have of Brazil and Brazilians. This summer’s events will surely be no exception to the relentlessly engrained image we have of Brazil: music, sunshine, smiles, beaches, cocktails, sexy girls and hunky guys.

As it is for Brazil, so it is too for Brazilian football; in a recent blog posting the latter was described thus: “Unlike any other cultural interpretation of a particular sport, [Brazilian football] has the ability to conjure up in one’s mind an essence of mystery, of carnival, of rhythm, of unadulterated joy and freedom.”

Even during the Olympic Games handover ceremony in London during 2012, the Brazilian authorities drew heavily on the world’s cultural associations with the country. Despite assertions to the contrary by Brazilian officials, we were still presented with “250 dancers and musicians – many of them samba fans”. Hardly a move designed to break down walls and challenge stereotypes.

Yet this image appears to work well for Brazil: around 6 million tourists visit the country each year; Rio de Janeiro’s annual carnival generates £570 million in expenditure; while the FIFA World Cup may attract an additional 3.7 million tourists into the country, each of whom is expected to spend an average of £1500.

Sun, sea, samba and smiles – what a great brand for a nation to have. Or is it? During a recent BBC documentary – Rio 50 Degrees: Carry on CaRIOca – it was observed that this image is strangling the country and its development, but also fails to portray Brazil in an accurate or a helpful way. In other words, there is more to Brazil than the rest of the world realises.

Almost as an entrée to the new, 21st century ‘Brand Brazil’, at the FIFA Federations Cup in 2013 we witnessed a different kind of Brazil playing national team football. Gone were the smiles of Ronaldinho and the charisma of Socrates, to be replaced by the aggression of players like Marcelo and the muscular approach of players like Hulk. Indeed, Zonal Marking’s review of the tournament’s Final, when Brazil played Spain, was littered with words such as ‘pressing’, ‘directness’, ‘ruthless’, ‘immediacy’ and ‘defensive’.

This is hardly the view many of us have, either of Brazilian football or of Brazil in general. Yet the football team’s emergence as something much more physical, focused and professional is seemingly a metaphor for the country’s economic development. Brazil is more than a seaside paradise: it is currently the world’s seventh largest economy, in terms of both nominal Gross Domestic Product and purchasing power parity.

The Economist has recently hailed “Brazil’s strong domestic market [which] is less vulnerable to external crises”, while it highlights that “Brazilians are benefiting from stable economic growth, relatively low inflation rates and improvements in social well-being.” At the same time, Forbes magazine places thirty six Brazilian businesses in its annual ranking of the world’s top 2000 public companies. Of these, oil and gas corporation Petrobras is ranked Number 4, with revenues of nearly $140 billion, profits of around $21 billion and assets worth $310 billion approximately. Surely Brazil therefore deserves that we revisit our stereotypes of it, this is not a country living on beaches and in bars.

Nation branding is being taken increasingly seriously by businesses, governments and global. At one level, nation branding is linked to reputation and has a symbolic value that serves to highlight a country’s distinctiveness. But nation branding goes beyond this; indeed, the Anholt-GfK Immigration/Investment Index, measures a country’s power to attract talent and capital. The index is compiled by looking at each country’s global reputation for: its education quality; equal opportunity; quality of life; its investment environment; and whether people would consider working and living in that country. Brazil is currently in 21st place worldwide.

In Anholt-GfK’s Nation Brands Index, which measures the image of 50 countries (in terms of Exports, Governance, Culture, People, Tourism and Immigration/Investment), Brazil is currently in 20th place worldwide. An alternative ranking – FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index (which measures and ranks countries on the strength and power of their nation’s brand) – places Brazil 18th in the world. FutureBrand uses ‘Country of Origin’ as its measure of strength and power; this describes where products or goods originate from and encompasses agriculture, manufacturing or production.

Just as with a biting Marcelo tackle this is not what most of us expect from, or love about, Brazil. The country has become an industrial powerhouse and a major global economic player. But as fans will inevitably tune-in to the World Cup this summer to enjoy ‘samba football’ so many of us will continue to misrepresent Brazil and its economy.

The problem is, Brazil is hardly innocent in portraying itself and marketing the country around the world (as the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony proves). Hence, the pressure is on for Brazil over the coming month or so to ensure that visiting spectators, tourists and football fans across the world are presented with more than the Copacabana and Sergio Mendes. There is an additional imperative too alongside this task; after all, over the last 12 months Brazil has been shown to be a nation riddled with inequality, plagued by crime problems and beset by civil unrest.

Whether or not Brazil and its government is up to this double challenge remains to be seen. But with the nation’s presidential elections due to commence during the World Cup, there is a clear opportunity for Brazil to sing a different song to the endless blare of Mas Que Nada that most of us are going to be exposed to. ‘Whatever’ no longer describes what 21st century Brazil is about.

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Professor Simon Chadwick set-up and edits The Scorecard. He is Director of CIBS (Centre for the International Business of Sport) at Coventry University, where he works as Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing. Twitter, @Prof_Chadwick / LinkedIn.