Briefing / Americas
We run the rule over Brazilian president Lula's wardrobe, and the US 10-year census gets a marketing makeover - and the ad industry gets all excited.
STYLE LEADER: NO.26
Da Silva fox
Brazil [LUIZ INACIO 'LULA' DA SILVA]
As long as Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva refused to wear a suit, he seemed incapable of ever capturing Brazil’s presidency. It wasn’t until his dogged fourth try that Lula was elected in a landslide as the candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT). His win in 2002 coincided with him finally donning a tie, trimming his curly locks and tidying his beard. The repackaged Lula also withdrew a controversial proposal that might have caused Brazil to default on its foreign debt. Both decisions probably put bankers and the middle class better at ease with the prospect of the former trade unionist firebrand becoming president.
On 1 January next year, Lula will depart from office as the man Barack Obama has called “the most popular politician in the world”. After seven years he still has a remarkable 70 per cent approval rating in Brazil. In part, that’s because, even in more formal attire, Lula’s Everyman origins are still apparent.
Before running for office he was a metalworker and favela-bred shoeshine boy. His boy-done-good life story will long resonate for working-class Brazilians – a journey documented in the new telenovela-accented biopic Lula, The Son of Brazil. Even in power Lula appears rooted and authentic. A diminutive, barrel-proportioned man, he wears conservative suits tailored to accommodate his physical challenges. He usually ensures all the jacket buttons are done up to further contain his frame.
Despite his popularity, Lula may need more than a good wardrobe if he wants to see his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, win the presidential election this November. Rousseff, who possesses little of Lula’s charm, currently lags behind former São Paulo mayor José Serra at the polls. But there’s still time for Lula to come to the rescue. No one can beat him at firing up crowds and he’s never above donning a T-shirt or baseball cap featuring the emblem of a local company or football team wherever he goes.
Hair: Long gone is the shaggy activist’s hairdo. Now it’s short, silvery, distinguished and often parted in the middle – a metaphor perhaps of how well he’s built coalitions and played to the centre of Brazilian politics when necessary.
Beard: His signature physical feature, which enhances his rather avuncular persona and helps him stand out in the line-up at international conferences.
Suit: When Lula personally inaugurated a national fitness campaign (43.4 per cent of Brazilian adults are overweight) it was an acknowledgment that he could himself stand to lose a few kilos. Still, suits tailored to his physique and three-button jackets, usually done up, help Lula attempt a smart impression nonetheless. On ceremonial occasions, Lula sports his presidential sash – always a poignant moment given his humble origins.
Shoes: As a child Lula shined shoes; as president, he has seen footwear emerge as one of the country’s top non-food exports.
Brazilian power dressing: You may work for a man who likes the casual look, but as we discovered on our visit to Brasília (see page 25), if you’re an aspiring civil servant or politician, there’s a fairly universal look – even in the heat of a Brazilian summer. There’s no beating a grey suit, white shirt and tie for men and the perfect skirt and blouse combo for women.
Tight budgets are pushing US cities to halt their parades. City halls are deciding that they can no longer afford the police overtime and the clean-up that the events – often honouring an ever more obscure collection of ethnic identities and overseas national days – demand.
Los Angeles cancelled its St Patrick’s Day march this year and New York has begun demanding that all parades must cut their distances by 25 per cent and stop after five hours. Philadelphia also pulled all support for its six ethnic parades and its New Year’s Day “Mummers” bacchanal (left), forcing the festivities to be scaled down dramatically.
Raising the baa
The Brazilian city of Curitiba has found a simple way to keep its green areas trim. It employs a municipal shepherd with a flock of 30 community-minded sheep to nibble the city’s 28 parks.
View from Washington
As the US census takers rush to complete their Herculean task, they are getting some help from the world of advertising.
By Sasha Issenberg
When US census takers complete their work later this year, they hope to leave the country with an exact count of its estimated 308 million residents. The census is mandated by the US Constitution to count the American population every 10 years, sending out forms and hoping people return them. (The Census Bureau says it’s a 10-minute process.) Then comes the expensive part: this year, the census will hire 500,000 temporary canvassers to knock on doors and track down deadbeats.
Census officials estimate that every ignored form requires more than $50 (€36) in follow-up costs. So this time round they have tried something different – a $140m (€101m) communications campaign already up and running and designed to convince more people to fill out that form so no one has to chase them for it. The hope is that this will have more impact than the public-service announcements donated by broadcasters to support census efforts in the past.
It’s a unique experiment in communications that advertising and marketing people are watching closely. Unlike most commercial advertising campaigns, this one has to make people respond to a product that probably will never interest them. “It’s what business professors would advise any company not to do,” says Wendy Moe, a University of Maryland marketing professor who advised the census. A collection of national and local firms led by ad agency Draftfcb is running the current campaign. “Most of what advertisers are doing is selling a product, so their campaign is aimed at a specific niche,” says assistant division chief Tasha Boone. “We’re targeting everyone and trying to change behaviour.”
More than half the advertising budget is being directed at ethnic minorities. The cen- sus’s “It’s In Our Hands” message has already popped up in the storylines of telenovelas popular with Latinos and on fortune-cookie messages at Seattle’s Chinese restaurants. English- language “A March to the Mailbox” ads have been adapted to take a more serious tone for Russian, Polish, Arabic, Armenian, Farsi and Ukrainian speakers.
To reach the primarily white, English-language audience, census officials commissioned a series of ads from renowned funny man Christopher Guest. One, which aired during the Super Bowl, led John McCain to scold census officials for “wasting $2.5m [€1.8m] taxpayers’ dollars to compete with ads for Doritos.” Officials contracted the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center to produce an evaluation that should help test McCain’s claim: are the Guest ads more effective than, say, sponsoring a statistics blog on AOL News? That type of comparative information will be the census’s enduring gift to market researchers, who will scour it for lessons in how to persuade Americans not only how to fill out a form, but also how to buy things.
Form fillers: In 2000, an estimated 67 per cent of Americans filled out a census form.
Talk to me: The current census is advertising in 28 languages, up from the 17 used in 2000.
State of play: Wisconsin and Nebraska had the highest response rates in 2000.
Colombia — GOVERNMENT
Colombia’s top job is up for grabs in the presidential elections on 30 May, with veteran politician Juan Manuel Santos the front-runner. Rivals include philosopher and mathematician Antanas Mockus (the son of Lithuanian immigrants), Noemí Sanín, who’s running for a third time, and Gustavo Petro (above), a former guerrilla fighter.
Cash to splash
Canada — MONEY
By late 2011, Ottawa will begin replacing Canada’s $10 and $20 bills with state-of-the-art specimens that officials promise will be more durable, hygienic and harder to counterfeit. The new bills will be made with a synthetic-polymer cloth that repels germs and water and can integrate modern security technology.
It's a steal
Puerto Rico — FRAUD
In Puerto Rico students submit birth certificates to register for school and even ballet class. But there’s been a growing number of certificates being stolen and sold for up to €7,000 to Latin American drug dealers wanting to get a US passport (which Puerto Ricans are entitled to). So by July, millions of Puerto Ricans must have applied for new certificates.
The US may be one of the world’s big greenhouse gas emitters, with each American creating around 19 tonnes of C02 a year, but Portland, Oregon, is a poster child of green living. It has 92,000 acres of green space.