Abductors Said to Be Dressed as Police Officers

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NEW YORK ( -- Brazil's best-known adman, Washington Olivetto, was kidnapped in Sao Paulo on Tuesday evening by a group of bandits disguised as policemen, according to Brazilian press reports.

Mr. Olivetto, 50, the founder and president of independent agency W/Brasil, and his chauffeur were driving the short distance home from the agency at about 7:30 p.m. when their car was stopped on Av. Angelica.

The chauffeur was later released and called the police.

According to Brazilian news reports, Brazil's president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has asked the Federal Police to get involved in the search for Mr. Olivetto.

Abandoned car found
The Sao Paulo police on this afternoon found abandoned one of the cars used by the kidnappers, a stolen silver Peugeot.

Eyewitnesses reportedly told the police that Mr. Olivetto was kidnapped by five men wearing Federal Police uniforms who created a blockade after a lookout tipped them off that Mr. Olivetto had left his ad agency.

Fourth adman kidnapped
Mr. Olivetto is the fourth adman to be kidnapped in Brazil, although the earlier kidnappings were in the 1980s and '90s.

The three admen previously kidnapped -- who were all released alive -- were Luis Salles, from the Salles agency in Sao Paulo now owned by Bcom3's D'Arcy Masius Benton Bowles Geraldo Alonso, president of Publicis Norton, Sao Paulo; and Roberto Medina, president and owner of Artplan Publicidade, Rio de Janeiro.

Celebrity abductions on rise
Recently Brazil's celebrity kidnapping industry has heated up again. Patricia Abravanel, the daughter of Silvio Santos, the owner of Brazilian TV network SBT, was kidnapped this fall. Several days after she was released, Mr. Santos was held hostage in his home for several hours.

A record 209 victims have been kidnapped in Sao Paulo so far this year, up from 63 last year. An even more common crime is the "lightning kidnapping" ("sequestros-relampago" in Portuguese), in which victims are forced to get cash from ATM machines to be released; at least 7,000 such crimes occur each year in Sao Paulo.

Brazilian police generally refused to comment during kidnapping investigations, but Brazilian Web sites, including Advertising Age's Brazilian licensee, Meio & Mensagem, reported today the police were focusing special search operations on Sao Paulo's poor, outlying neighborhoods.

Like rock stars
In Brazil, advertising is wildly popular, and the best-known creative directors become major celebrities. Visiting Brazil for the first time, American ad executives are often astonished that Brazilians treat their top admen like rock stars.

At 50, Mr. Olivetto has been one of those stars for 30 years. He became famous as a copywriter and creative director during the 13 years he spent at local agency DPZ, before starting his own agency W/GGK in 1986 with backing from now-defunct international agency GGK. In 1989, he and two local partners took over the agency and renamed it W/Brasil. Probably the most-awarded Brazilian adman, he has won more than 40 Lions over the years at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes.

Mr. Olivetto's $150 million W/Brasil ad agency has just been named Agency of the Year by Meio & Mensagem. W/Brasil is part of Mr. Olivetto's Prax holding company, which includes his other Brazilian ad agencies Registrada and Lew Lara.

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