How brands are (mis)representing Brazil for the Olympic games

Aug 22, 2016

GDR Innovation Consultant Bia Bezamat is Brazilian, in case you didn’t already know. She looks at the Olympic games in Rio as an opportunity for brands to show their ability to jump on the cultural bandwagon. The tricky bit is not hurting themselves in the process

As the office’s token South American, there is some obvious expectation over my opinions and enthusiasm for the Olympic Games taking place in my home city. I suppose if there was ever a time I could proclaim my nationality as good enough reason for expertise, it is now.

Aldi's Rio 2016 campaign

Ahead of the Games taking the stage in Rio de Janeiro, you could see brands’ palpable excitement of what was to come. A Latin American country, known for its joyful and colourful personality, hosting events smack in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer – what a perfect opportunity to show how much fun you can have eating a £3 pre-packaged salad. Close your eyes and you’re not drinking a bottle of açaí-flavoured Innocent smoothie, but a caipirinha on Ipanema beach. And it seems supermarkets and FMCG brands are really riding the wave, and often becoming the biggest culprits in the game of misguided cultural representation.

Brands’ well-intentioned efforts are perfectly exemplified by Aldi’s latest campaign, officially supporting Team GB. In line with their previous TV spots comparing brands and highlighting Aldi’s cheaper priced option, this advert spews poorly-researched clichés: an elderly lady with a Carmen Miranda fruit headpiece speaks, in very broken – and clearly not native – Portuguese, while proclaiming her preference for Piña Colada, Puerto Rico’s national drink. Being represented as one big continent where geographical and cultural lines don’t count is something South Americans are used to, but this one took the cake.

KFC, perhaps as a nod to our love of restaurants that serve barbecued meats on skewers, has released a special edition of its chicken bucket, where the contents remain exactly the same, but you receive an extra spicy portion of BBQ sauce. Pringles has released a limited-edition Brazilian Salsa flavour, even though the spice is the Spanish and Italian word for ‘sauce’ and is most commonly used in other Latin American countries such as Mexico and Argentina.

Waitrose released a 'Taste the Americas' range

There is no harm in choosing not to touch on cultural references particularly when you are not setting out to potentially offend anyone, as Paddy Power catastrophically did during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Some brands have found clever ways to mention the Olympic Games whilst staying on-brand, and not taking the easy misinformed route.  Waitrose, a trustworthy name in grocery, has introduced the Taste of the Americas range, including all North and Latin American countries in the mix and offering recipes and country-specific foods such as Oreo cookies, hailing from the US.

General Mills has used the Games to reinforce its mission to make its cereal portfolio 100%  free from artificial ingredients by introducing the endearing Rabbit Showdown competition, It is inviting fans to take part by submitting footage of their rabbit pets ‘competing’ – running, jumping or doing any type of exercise – for a chance to be crowned the best furry athlete and have their photo printed on cereal boxes. Although the connection with a healthy portfolio is slightly far-fetched, the campaign cleverly leverages the Internet’s biggest obsession, cute animals, to subtly mention the summer of sports.

Beyond FMCG and grocery, Michael Kors has recently announced a new store format that rotates concepts every month, with ‘athleisure’ being the launch theme.  Grindr got in on the action by launching its own line of sports clothing in support of an LGBT sports charity.  And perhaps unsurprisingly, we have seen a lot of creative digital executions, from Ford’s “Life is a Sport” Snapchat campaign using its cars as exercise equipment, to Google’s engaging Doodle fruit game, where Rio is a colourfully animated backdrop.


When marketing any country that is not as deeply embedded in pop culture as the US and some of Western Europe, brands only need to understand two things: 1) the importance of doing their homework, and perhaps consulting with natives that know their culture better than a Google search will ever do, and 2) when in doubt, don’t do it.

As the Olympics draw to a close and the Paralympics take the stage, I’ll leave you with US gymnast Simone Biles’ flawless floor performance to the sound of Sergio Mendes’ Mas Que Nada, a subtle thanks to the host country that cheered her on.


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