Ads central to Brazil presidential race

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[rio de janeiro] Brazil's leading adman Nizan Guanaes looks increasingly unlikely to sell presidential candidate Jose Serra to reluctant Brazilians in the country's Oct. 6 elections.

The international business community is anxiously watching the campaign as Workers Party candidate Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva builds a huge lead over the government party's Mr. Serra despite Mr. Guanaes' best efforts. Their fears for the future have helped drive Brazil's currency down almost 30% in the last six months. For many multinational marketers and ad agencies, Brazil represents about half of their Latin American revenues.

Mr. da Silva, a former union leader who has run for president four times starting in 1989, has scared off voters in the past with his radical supporters and anti-business and anti-U.S. stance. But now Brazilians, trapped in a stagnating economy with rising employment, want change.

Ad campaigns are crucial in Brazilian elections because the major candidates have vast amounts of TV time, doled out according to each party's size and number of elected officials, to fill with ads. Mr. Serra, for instance, can buy ten 15-second spots daily on each TV station in Brazil, and each week he is allocated free of charge three morning and three evening blocks lasting 10 minutes and 23 seconds each. Mr. da Silva's blocks are five minutes and 19 seconds long.

Both sides are nearing the end of the marathon to churn out compelling spots almost daily. With more time to fill, Mr. Guanaes is working almost around the clock.

In this presidential campaign, he faces his former partner and mentor Duda Mendonca, who started local agency DM9 with Mr. Guanaes more than a decade ago and now heads Mr. da Silva's campaign. Mr. Guanaes sold the agency, now DM9 DDB, to Omnicom Group, left to run an Internet company, and returned to the agency last year.

`peace and love'

With polls showing 41% of voters favor Mr. da Silva and just 18% saying they'll vote for Mr. Serra, Mr. Mendonca has put Mr. da Silva into a suit and presents him as the candidate "of peace and love."

"Brazilians are emotional people," Mr. Mendonca likes to say. "We cry over soap operas."

Mr. Guanaes has gone on the attack. His ads compare Mr. Serra, a former government minister, to his opponent, who has never governed. In one spot, an anchorwoman says "Think hard. Lula's a great guy, but do you really think his first political experience should be as president of your country?"

If no candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters face each other in a runoff in late October. At the rate Mr. Serra is going, he may not even place second. Anthony Garotinho, the former governor of Rio de Janeiro state, is third in the polls, favored by 15% of respondents, but his experienced ad team decamped when they weren't paid.

A fourth candidate, Ciro Gomes, has let his brother-in-law run his ad campaign, dismissed by ad executives as amateurish.

For Mr. Guanaes, who masterminded two successful election campaigns in 1994 and 1998 for departing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, this is the end. His passion for politics waning, he has already announced that after next month he will quit both political advertising and the government party.

He said last week, "My heart can't take this any more."

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