One of the secrets for ensuring success in Brazilian politics is to make damn-good TV spots as part of an on-air tradition that we call horário eleitoral gratuito, where all free-to-air TV channels in Brazil are obliged by law to insert 50 minutes of electoral-campaign adverts across morning and evening schedules. It infuriates some Brazilians, who are keen to watch the latest episode of their favourite soap opera. The pay rates towards the TV channels are at a lower rate than normal, too.
Even if they are hated by most, these TV spots are essential for a politician looking to get through to all Brazilians. Brazil is a vast country and TV obviously helps people from north to south to find out a bit more about the elections. But I have a confession to make: I love watching the TV spots and have done since I was a child. My mother must have thought, “What a strange boy.”
For those who have never seen one of these broadcasts, I can tell you that most of the time it’s funnier than a comedy show. No wonder that our highest-voted MP in the 2010 elections was a former clown named Tiririca, who won with more than a million votes (and a little help from his hit song “Florentina”.) But it’s not only Tiririca, we have candidates with names such as Hamburger Face, a Brazilian Barack Obama and there’s even an Osama bin laden.
Back in 1994, Eneas was a bearded presidential candidate who shouted at the screen talking about the need for Brazil to create an atomic bomb – he managed to get 7 per cent of the vote that year. And from what I can remember, he almost won in a mock election that we staged at my school.
It’s not all about comedy though – the more serious candidates actually have usually great spots such as the current president Dilma Rousseff’s campaign for re-election: all panoramic views from a helicopter and catchy songs. Even so, some felt a bit awkward having to watch her preparing spaghetti in one of her ads last week.
I’m sure the Brazilian political system can and must be improved but I really think that among the many changes we have on the cards, the free political TV spots should not be one of them.
Fernando Augusto Pacheco is a researcher for Monocle 24.