Six things you need to know ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games

By August 10, 2015Blog
Rio by night | Sherlock Communications

For any international brand, launching or operating in Brazil can be a daunting experience and requires careful planning and commitment.

Even at the highest levels of business, the ability to communicate in Portuguese is normally required and, while the country may seem united in language, in reality it is fragmented into many widely varying consumer groups.

In advance of the games, this six-point guide is designed to offer a cultural overview of the country’s marketing, sports and digital landscape ,as well as the challenges that face an international brand entering the market.


Brazilian cynicism to big business and sport has heightened in the last year, with corruption scandals affecting government, industry and even, with investigations into FIFA, the memory of the World Cup (which still remains under something of a cloud, with many promised infrastructure projects still incomplete let alone the infamous semi-final result against Germany).

A poll in March last year showed that as many as 68.9 percent of Brazilians believe the President, Dilma Rouseff, was responsible for a massive kickback scheme in the recently exposed Petrobras scandal.

In the context of preparation for the games in Rio, there is a particular degree of distrust and distaste for spin. To make room for sporting developments, there have been many forced evictions in poorer districts while the local government has been repeatedly criticized for erecting eight miles of concrete ‘eco-barriers’ (allegedly to protect rainforest around communities), more cynically seen as walls for containing and hiding the city’s slums from its foreign visitors.

In this context, as always with any international brand in Brazil, there is always a considerable risk of being viewed as in some way exploitative or arrogant, not benefiting the host country. However, any brand campaigns or initiatives which attempt to give something back, to be successful and taken seriously, must be based on a clear understanding of the more complicated underlying tensions and suspicions that exist


Brazil is still a divided society, both culturally and economically. Among more disadvantaged communities in particular, sport is seen as a vehicle to social mobility with many successful/hero footballers, martial artists and basketball players coming from poorer comunidades (the preferred, politically correct term instead of favela).

Like the successful companies that sponsor these players, the most respected and loved are those that demonstrably embrace their roots rather than seek to distance themselves from them.


Although Rio, with its beaches and famous landmarks, is seen as an almost archetypal representation of Brazil by foreigners, in reality, the city has a more complicated image to Brazilians.

Unlike the World Cup, which held games across the country, the games are being held exclusively in or around the city of Rio de Janeiro. Although Rio is Brazil’s second largest city, it represents just three per cent of the total population. Most Brazilians (particularly those outside the middle or upper classes) have never been there. Brands which recognize this fact and can, in some way, help bring a meaningful experience of the games to consumers outside the city will achieve considerable cut-through.

Although Rio, with its beaches and famous landmarks, is seen as an almost archetypal representation of Brazil by foreigners, in reality, the city has a more complicated image to Brazilians. The carioca (Rio) way of life and people have a reputation of being laid back, but this certainly not always a positive association. Tensions between Rio and the rest of the country (in particular São Paulo) often exist not far beneath the surface.

Content and campaigns based on traditional Rio clichés of beaches and samba have little resonance for Brazilians but, for brands that want to celebrate and offer a genuine experience of the games in Rio, a sensitivity to these differing reputations will be key.


As will come as a surprise to few, football predominates Brazilian sporting culture. It is by far the most popular sport in the country, followed by volleyball, martial arts and basketball. Most other sports and sports stars are relatively unknown. There is, however, an enduring national pride in sporting achievement and Brazilians do and will always want to celebrate their athletes – as soon as they know who they are.

Like the teams of most other countries, the typical consumer will know only the very best athletes from the most popular events. Brands which can tap into this national Brazilian pride and help introduce and connect new athletes and niche sports to individual communities will be immediately differentiated from more simplistic and generic brand messages.

The most popular sports in Brazil (in order of popularity) are:


  • Football
  • Volleyball (including Beachvolley)
  • Basketball


  • Swimming
  • Judo
  • Athletics
  • Tennis
  • Sailing
  • Rowing
  • Gymnastics


Brazil is a culturally, educationally and economically diverse country. There is no one medium, message or publication which can reach all audiences. However, due to the increasing proliferation of smartphones and consumer credit, as well Brazil’s hyper-social culture, Brazilians use and consumption of social media dwarfs European or North American user-bases.

97.8 million Brazilians use social networks (the most popular being Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram) and as a national trait, Brazilians are simply more willing to share – Brazil has the second highest Facebook engagement rates of any country in the world.

For brands trying to engage disparate audiences, this presents a significant opportunity (social media in Brazil should be a part of any brand’s global communications strategy around the games in 2016) – it can also represent risk.

Brazilian social media users tend to have a particularly sardonic sense of humour – friends are just as likely to share disparaging memes of politicians and gaffes from brands as gossip. Any social media campaigns or content need be carefully planned to ensure that there are no unintended ironies lost in translation. Sharing is often not the problem, standing out and getting the message right frequently is.


Gamification is also extremely advanced in Brazil. The country ranks as number one in the Western world for Social Network gaming, with 36% of the population playing a social game at least once a week. The most advanced brands already recognise this and construct clear narratives around these experiences. For international brands, this should be seen as an opportunity to create experiences which can be both localized and subsequently internationalised for audiences beyond Brazil’s borders.

An international social media campaign that is kick-started in Brazil will have a clear credibility and engagement advantage against those that do not.

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