Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil unrest: Protesters ‘subvert’ advertising slogans

Image caption Protesters have appropriated slogans from major ad campaigns

During the wave of protests continuing to sweep Brazil, two slogans have stood out for having made their way from TV and social networking sites onto the streets.

"Vem pra rua" (Come to the streets) and "O gigante acordou" (The giant has awoken) were part of advertising campaigns by Fiat and Johnnie Walker respectively, but have been usurped by demonstrators all over the country.

For some this was evidence of Brazil's consumer culture and a lack of political awareness, but for others it was simply a skilful appropriation of advertising to make an effective political point.

The #vemprarua campaign was launched on social networks by Fiat - one of the main sponsors of the Confederations Cup currently being staged in Brazil.

A TV commercial showed Brazilians taking to the streets wearing the colours of the national flag to support their team during the football tournament.

The campaign jingle called on viewers to "come to the streets, because the streets are the main Brazilian grandstand".

But far removed from its original intention, the slogan became a call for Brazilians to take the streets protesting against the rise in public transport fares, corruption and the vast sums being spent on preparing for the 2014 World Cup.

'Synthesising feelings'

In the same way, "The giant has awoken" was taken from a 2011 Johnnie Walker ad in which the rocks forming the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro rose upwards - literally as a giant.

The advertisers intended it to represent Brazilian economic growth and the choice of the country to host both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

But the protesters clearly spotted another kind of symbolism.

"One of the tasks of advertisers is to synthesise feelings that are somehow latent and turn them into slogans," says advertiser and market researcher Adilson Batista, founder of the agency Today.

"The Johnnie Walker film is quite emotional and it sums up a national pride that was already present in people.

Image caption Police have been firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators

"And the 'Vem pra rua' campaign - even though it was created for the Confederations Cup - caused a different reaction in people, probably because it explored the idea of mobilisation."

Different meaning

But the adoption of the slogans does not mean that demonstrators adopted the content of the campaigns as well, according to social networks specialist Augusto de Franco.

"Advertising has a tendency to paint things in yellow and green (Brazil's colours) and jump on board the wave of national pride, selling products while they are at it," says Mr de Franco.

"But people gave a different meaning to all that, prompted by a sentiment of dissatisfaction, a feeling that there's something very wrong with the current system."

Different activists use the adopted material in different ways.

"Some groups use slogans and hashtags created by brands to spread their political messages and others transform them (the campaigns) into satirical videos and adapted hashtags", Mr Batista says.

Brazil protest banners

In the early stages of the protests, a video created by Brazilian YouTube users mixed images of the Johnnie Walker ad with footage from the protests - the soundtrack is the Fiat jingle.

The "Occupy Wall Street" slogan had a similar genesis, Mr Batista points out.

It was created by the editors of underground magazine Adbusters and spread in the media and social networks with the help of activist groups and of a PR company.

'Looking for identity'

However, he believes that companies will not try to exploit their visibility on demonstrations, or enjoy the visibility of their campaigns.

"Just as it happened with political parties that tried to participate in the movement, I think any association of public or private brands will be rejected in the social networks."

Analysts say that the use of slogans show that most demonstrators have little connection to political parties and have drawn inspiration instead from the world of consumption, ever present in the internet environment.

"We live in a society where people are looking for an identity, especially young people", says political scientist Marco Aurelio Nogueira, from the University of Sao Paulo.

"They go to the streets not only for a cause, but also because they want to be seen by photographers, by their friends on Facebook.

"Marketers have a role in it, because they have to find formulas that can be decoded by people, and create emotional connections.

"That is why there are so many people wearing 'V for Vendetta' masks without knowing the story of the mask or the comic book. Using slogans or a mask can be one of the ways people identify themselves as participants on something," says Mr Nogueira.

One consequence could be that, perhaps, in the future advertisers wanting to tap into powerful national feelings - that certainly exist in Brazil - might be a bit more cautious.

These days you never know where it will end up.

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