NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- During the samba school parade at this year's Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, there will be a new digital element. A bank of six giant computer screens mounted on a float will let people anywhere send in pictures of themselves and participate virtually as one of the top samba schools, Portela, marches down the avenue in the Sambadrome on Sunday night.
Positivo, Brazil's biggest computer maker with a market share of close to 40%, is providing the monitors as part of its sponsorship of Portela and its theme of social and digital inclusion. Each samba school has a samba enredo, a song that expresses the school's theme, and it is sung by the 4,000 or more costumed members of each school as they perform. The hour-long parade entertains 100,000 wildly enthusiastic viewers singing along in the bleachers and VIP boxes, and millions of people watch the event on TV around the world.
General sponsorship is allowed, but marketers and their agencies often try desperately to infuse their brands or ad messages into the samba schools' themes and songs. That's forbidden, but trying is part of the fun.
"Carnival isn't like a TV commercial," said Carlos Perrone, founder of Sao Paulo shop Pepper, Positivo's agency. "Carnival needs resources, and advertisers need a return on their investment. But there have to be rules. You have to be creative, not explicit. If you were allowed to say 'Drink Coca-Cola' [in a samba song], everyone would be doing it."
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Rede Globo, Brazil's leading TV network and broadcaster of the samba school parades held in Rio and other cities, helps with enforcement. This year one of the samba schools participating in Sao Paulo's parade built its song around the theme "Cacau e Show" and the glorious history of the cacao bean. There happens to be a Brazilian chocolate store chain called "Cacau Show," so Globo insisted the school was violating the rules.
"They had to change everything," Mr. Perrone said. The new, more acceptable theme is a mouthful: "Cacao: a precious grain that transformed chocolate into without a doubt the best present."
Luckily for Mr. Perrone, his client's name, Positivo, is an actual word that makes sense used in a samba song, unlike a rival such as Hewlett Packard or Dell that would clearly break the rules. Portela was persuaded to slightly alter its samba song so the lyrics now say "Access digital love, make the child a citizen, positive for the nation, the internet will transform our lives." The original phrase was "for the future of the nation" before the Portuguese word "positivo' was substituted for "futuro."
Pepper took the "positive for the nation" phrase and made it the URL for the website for people to text SMS messages or send photos to appear on the giant screens during Portela's parade. The pictures can also be seen on the site, which plays Portela's samba song continuously. Portela is scheduled to parade at 11 p.m. on Sunday, the third of six schools that night. The other six parade the following night.
Mr. Perrone is an expert at what he describes as "corporate samba." He was behind Brazilian airline TAM's sponsorship of Rio samba school Salgueiro years ago when its theme was "the dream of flying."
Meio & Mensagem, a Brazilian trade publication that is one of Ad Age's international partners, described efforts to slip marketers' brands or messages into samba school songs in a recent story. Back in 2002, TV Globo threatened not to broadcast a Sao Paulo samba school's part in the parade unless the school removed big cans with the names of Nestle canned milk brands "Leite Ninho" and "Leite Moca" from its floats. The school refused, and kept its airtime anyway. According to Meio & Mensagem, Nestle tried again in 2005 with the sponsorship of another samba school that included in its song the words ninho and moca, Portuguese words for "nest" and "girl," respectively.