It's hard enough to host the Olympics without having to deal with a Zika epidemic, a crushing economic recession, and the impeachment of a president. But that's the plight of Rio de Janeiro.
Rio Readies for Olympics Amid Economic and Political Turmoil
Marketers in Brazil are cutting budgets in an economy forecast to contract another 4% this year after a similar drop last year, and car sales plummeted by 22% in February. The country's congress has started impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, and Brazilians hope the furor over who runs Brazil will be resolved long before the Olympic Games kick off Aug. 5.
Another big challenge is getting a nation distracted by multiple crises (and who are mostly soccer fans anyway) to pay attention to Olympic sports -- and to the messages of six marketers paying a total of $420 million to sponsor dominant broadcaster TV Globo's coverage of the games.
"Are Brazilians fascinated by the Olympics? No. We have to build it," said Sergio Valente, the former president of leading Sao Paulo agency DM9 DDB who joined Rio-based Globo three years ago as director-communications, responsible for the Globo brand and advertising, planning, strategy, social responsibility and PR. So important is Globo, and Mr. Valente's role there, that he was named Adman of the Year earlier this month by the Brazilian Advertising Association.
About 96 million Brazilians watch Globo every day, and the network has been bombarding them with content and ads for the last year aimed at creating an Olympic spirit that connects everyone. In fact, the slogan is "Somos Todos Olimpicos" (roughly, "We're All Olympians").
"We have to make the Olympics more relevant to the audience and sponsors," Mr. Valente said. The six sponsors, paying $70 million each for an Olympics package that includes a vast number of ads and mentions on TV and Globo.com, are Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Fiat, Nestle, Bradesco bank and wireless provider Claro.
With every Brazilian an Olympian, every occasion can be celebrated with an Olympics-themed ad, from children going back to school to International Women's Day. In a Happy Birthday spot for Rio de Janeiro, athletes and Olympics fans applaud the city's anniversary.
"We take any opportunity to talk about the Olympics," Mr. Valente said.
In music-loving Brazil, there's also an official "Somos Todos Olimpicos" song. Mr. Valente, a former copywriter and creative director, wrote it. The master version was recorded by the Los Angeles Symphony and he said there are 20 versions in different musical styles -- samba, techno, country, famous singers -- "so the audience doesn't get tired of it." An explosive victory version will play when Brazil wins a medal.
Globo also created the Gold Team, a group of 10 Brazilian gold medalists who have been in training for two years to be TV presenters. And Globo developed a virtual table that uses augmented reality to recreate key moments from Olympic contests so commentators can explain tactics and strategy.
Other Olympics-related ad sales efforts are still going on. Dentsu Aegis Network's Posterscope won a bid last year to sell the clocks that line Rio's beachside boulevards and will be exclusively available to Olympics sponsors and supporters from July 5 to Sept. 29. Abel Reis, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Brazil, said sales were slow in January and February as advertisers were concerned about whether Rio would be ready to stage the games and offer visitors a good experience, but are picking up again.
The ad industry is also tackling Zika. BeGIANT Advertainment worked with the Ministry of Health on "Children Against Zika." creating catchy songs and animated video clips for children packed with information on fighting Zika.
Dentsu-owned Rio agency NBS and Posterscope invented mosquito-killing billboards. The panels attract mosquitos within a 2.5 mile range by emitting the scent of human sweat and respiration and using fluorescent lights. Once trapped, the mosquitos die of dehydration. The panels say "This billboard kills hundreds of Zika mosquitos a day."
With the economic downturn, some ad agencies, which are mostly based in Sao Paulo, have been closing their Rio offices. It doesn't help that the Rio government, a big advertiser, is broke and some agencies say they haven't been paid.
Hugo Rodrigues, CEO of Publicis in Brazil, said he did a 2016 forecast for Brazil in October that was reviewed and cut in January, and then revised downward again after the first quarter. Another agency exec, from a WPP shop, said "We're doing that every month."
Mr. Reis said the economy should start improving in the second half of next year, with the help of foreign investment. "By the end of 2018 we'll be back to growth, of 2% to 5% a year."
Ad holding companies have been flagging Brazil on their first-quarter earnings calls this month. Omnicom said first-quarter organic growth in Brazil was minus 20%.
"We are planning to face headwinds throughout the rest of the year," said Omnicom CEO John Wren on the call. "It might get mitigated a little bit in the second half from the Olympics, but we're not certain, unless they come up with a cure to the virus they have, God knows what the attendance is going to be."
When the Olympics finally start, logistical challenges will be huge in a city where traffic is already gridlocked and Olympic venues are far flung. Rio's local downtown airport and some major roads will close periodically to accommodate nearby Olympic contests. Certain subway stops may only be open to passengers with tickets to Olympic venues. Rio's government is moving a two-week annual school vacation from July to August, to eliminate school drop-off and pick-up traffic during the games, and free families to leave the city if they want to.
There seems to be less of a scramble for tickets than when Brazil hosted the soccer World Cup in 2014.
"I'll watch it on Globo," Mr. Valente said. "From Sao Paulo."