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In Sao Paulo, Brazil, City's Ad Scene Is More Prepared for World Cup Than Country Itself

Here's What the Area's Creatives Have Planned for Year's Biggest Global Sporting Event

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With the first World Cup game just around the corner in Brazil's capital of Sao Paulo, ad agencies and marketers are trying to figure out how to navigate the vast, chaotic city during the monthlong event. But adland, with its carefully crafted campaigns, may be much better prepared for the World Cup than the country itself.

During a recent visit by Ad Age, Naked was installing videoconferencing equipment to communicate with clients in case it's hard to get around during the games. Many agencies, like DM9 DDB, WMcCann and Neogama BBH, will close at noon on days the Brazil team plays -- unless Sao Paulo's mayor suddenly declares a holiday, as seems likely for the first game on June 12 (Update: It is a holiday!). Agencies will mount huge screens in their offices for staffers who want to watch games there rather than at home or a bar.

The Cannes Lions festival ranks Sao Paulo as the world's most-creative city, taking home 109 Lion trophies in 2013. The absence of media agencies (in Brazil, only full-service shops are allowed to collect media commissions and discounts) keeps margins healthy enough to pay hefty creative salaries.

Agencies

Sao Paulo shops are flocking to Vila Madalena, a charming bohemian neighborhood full of colorful street art that is rapidly and expensively gentrifying.

Sao Paulo's Vila Madalena neighborhood
Sao Paulo's Vila Madalena neighborhood

The first wave of ad agencies converted galleries (digital shop Ampfy), photography studios (Wieden & Kennedy), bars (Naked) and even laundries (Publicis' Z+). Creatives love to live in the neighborhood, packed with restaurants, bars and a samba school. Wieden, a 2011 startup in the city, grew so fast after winning Nike and Coca-Cola that the 130-person agency shuffled down the street in February to a bigger, brand-new building. It's now World Cup central as the agency churns out global soccer work for both brands under creative leader Icaro Doria.

Dentsu Aegis' new building
Dentsu Aegis' new building

As new construction supersedes small businesses, bigger companies are finding space in Vila Madalena. Dentsu Aegis rented an almost-finished building there for 600 staffers, and will move in while business is slow during the World Cup.

"Much of Vila Madalena's economic activity has to do with creativity and technology," said Abel Reis, CEO of Dentsu's Isobar Brasil. "That's very appealing."

Although holding companies buy up Brazilian agencies like hotcakes, Sao Paulo still has a startup scene, with CP&B and BETC seeking their first premises. Sao Paulo's own ad holding company, Grupo ABC, is the 23rd-biggest in the world, with agencies including Africa, Loducca, a stake in DM9 DDB, and, outside Brazil, Pereira & O'Dell.

See Wieden & Kennedy's new indoor/outdoor office in Sao Paulo's bohemian Vila Madalena neighborhood:

Photo credit: Rodrigo Sganzerla

Marketers

Sao Paulo is home to a robust mix of multinational and strong local brands, including Havaianas flip-flops, banks Bradesco and Itau, and wireless marketers Vivo and Oi. Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has Brazilian investors and management, spends almost half its $1 billion global ad budget in Latin America, mostly Brazil.

Digital companies like Google and Twitter are close neighbors as a mini-Silicon Valley forms in the city.

Challenges

Crime is a major concern, and one reason heavily-guarded indoor shopping malls called "shoppings" are so popular. Top ad execs tool around in armored cars, braving hours-long traffic jams that aren't eased by the rodizio that keeps each car, by license plate number, off the gridlocked roads once a week.
After years of fast growth boosted millions of poor Brazilians into the middle class and extended easy credit to these new consumers, economic expansion has slowed to under 2% a year. That, along with protests at the lack of spending on education, health and safety as billions was poured into World Cup stadiums, worries usually optimistic Brazilians.

Rio De Janeiro

Most of the ad world's action is in gritty Sao Paulo, but the main agencies have outposts in stunningly beautiful Rio, often in beachy neighborhoods. Rio has a sizable family-owned agency, Artplan; the Medina family also runs the brand-filled Rock in Rio music festival. Dentsu just bought another Rio shop, NBS (for No Bullshit).

Rio is home to a few top marketers, including Coca-Cola and state-owned oil company Petrobras, Brazil's ninth-biggest advertiser at $184 million.

The city is dominated by media giant TV Globo, which controls most national TV audiences and ad revenue and has about 8,800 staffers in Rio. With only one national channel, Globo will juggle all 64 World Cup games -- 56 live, and eight in one-hour versions later.

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