Get thee to a favela, says ad agency

Rio + Rio means Rio more Rio, in the sense of a city becoming more itself

Last Thursday morning was set aside for grocery shopping, not high on a blogger’s list of priorities but a commitment that gains in importance as the toilet paper begins to run out.

But  then Camilo Coelho, formerly responsible for the rather uncritical Blog da Pacificação, posted something on Facebook about an event at the samba court in Santa Marta favela, in Botafogo. Something about “discussing the role of society and important brands in the process of favela pacification”. Something about NBS, an ad agency acronym that stands for No Bullshit.

Huh? Brands? Bullshit isn’t a word in Portuguese.

Santa Marta favela was the first favela to be pacified, in December 2008, but this blogger hadn’t been there since 1996. That visit was in the company of a local, and without a camera, to interview a neighborhood association president for the newsletter of the pioneering NGO, CDI. The interviewee said that two or three earlier leaders had been shot dead.

Much easier to say "xis" nowadays

And so, in the blur of online communications, it became clear that the  toilet paper would have to be stretched.

The samba court was filling up with people fast. What’s this about? RioRealblog asked Social UPP program chief Ricardo Henriques, who introduced Police Pacification coordinator Colonel Rogério Seabra. Seabra shook his head; Henriques said that whatever it was had been happening on the margin of his responsibilities at the Pereira Passos Institute.

Standing room only

State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame was there; so too was city Conservation Secretary Carlos Roberto Osório and his sub, Joaquim Monteiro. And O Globo economic columnist Miriam Leitão; a local tour guide; and the  presidents of Light, the electricity company, and Santander bank…

On seats enough for 300, there were little notebooks, cool black pencils, a booklet of helpful doing-business-in-favelas-hints, and a cartoon map of some unusual sights in unusual places.

It was hard not to feel a bit sidelined. All this preparation, and the event came up by chance yesterday, on Facebook?

Is this the real Rio?

There was sexy lighting and a sound system and a stage; the setup was comparable to architect Zaha Hadid’s recent cocktail party and talk at the Rio Museum of Modern Art. Except this was in a favela. Did Medellín ever see such hype?

Onstage, the ad people said they’d had a surprise. “We wanted a memorable project that would reaffirm NBS’s relationship with Rio in the agency’s ten years of activity,” explained André Lima, partner and creative director. “We created Rio 1416, to understand the city’s opportunities and challenges; we wanted to invite companies to be part of the debate. The idea was to talk about the World Cup and the Olympics, but when we began the conversations we saw that people wanted to talk about the police pacification units.”

So NBS ordered up a public opinion survey, RIOSurveyII, done this and last month.

Seventy-four percent of those asked said they feel safer in Rio now than three years ago. Forty-seven percent said they’re optimistic about the new public safety policy. The sample is small, only 172 respondents, apparently all non-favela residents, mostly young.

NBS also conducted interviews with the movers and shakers of Rio’s transformation. City education secretary Claudia Costin said that without pacification, she can’t reform Rio’s schools.

NBS thought these results so strikingly positive that they decided to open an office in Santa Marta and to urge their clients– which include Coca-Cola Brasil’s non-carbonated beverages, the Oi telecommunications giant and the SulAmerica insurance and pension plan company– to check out Rio’s morros.

The pacified ones, that is. “Seems to me it’s like they’re telling businesses they can come in with a police escort,” commented one of several disgruntled members of the public.

“Exactly,” says Taciana Abreu, NBS Planning Director. “Tell me, would a company go in any other way? I don’t think so.”

Other critics say the escort –police pacification — is mostly maquiagem, makeup. The police are truculent and corrupt, they say. Some critics deeply dislike the idea of seeing favela residents as potential consumers– or, in the case of the young passinho dancers who ended the presentation and q & a session with a splash, as products. There is also the underlying issue of just how wide and how deep pacification can really go, with deeply-rooted discriminatory attitudes and behaviors, criminals on the move to places like Niterói, across the bay from Rio, and militia gangs reportedly on the rise.

One used to bring in a samba school. Now it's the passinho...is there a difference?

It’s easy to forget how life used to be.

In the early 2000s, Rio’s favelas were often explored by virtual visitors– who played the hugely popular Counterstrike video game. Funnily enough, the game’s territory is devoid of actual favela residents, criminals or passers-by. There are only counter-terrorist strikers, terrorists and hostages. No one else mattered.

Lots of real people live in favelas, and lots of folks have been working on all kinds of social projects in them for years. Many of both sorts may feel, well, sidelined by pacification and by the NBS proposal. Why, after all these years, many a favela resident has asked, do you care about me now?

State officials have been urging the private sector to take part in the pacification program but to date the only known big players are Coca-Cola’s national Coletivo program and energy and mining magnate Eike Batista.

Now, NBS is talking something more hard-nosed. On the samba court, agency execs displayed an impressive ability to appreciate reality. “Each community is different,” the hints booklet points out. “Listen to people, have a coffee … remember, we’re talking about territories in transition”.

Casas Bahia home furnishings delivery truck on its way uphill, followed by NBS van

Kids with nice tennis shoes, points out writer and passinho “Battle” organizer Julio Ludemir, used to be immediately identified as kids who’d made money in the drug traffic. Nowadays, with the emerging middle class, lots of kids buy nice tennis shoes. “It’s the city that wants pacification,” he says, “and the city is more than the all the public policies put together”. The new middle class, he and others believe, are what’s really driving social change in Rio and in Brazil overall.

Which was evident  the next day not far from Santa Marta at a Botafogo supermarket, boasting cozy new wooden shelves in the wine section. A staff birthday was being celebrated with music, cake and guaraná, and despite high prices, customers were bopping down the aisles.

Meanwhile, NBS says they’ve had some client interest but can’t yet name names.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Get thee to a favela, says ad agency

  1. cthegringa says:

    Reblogged this on Brasil! Pra mim . . . and commented:
    Excellent blog and very interesting post.

  2. Thanks for putting your eye balls on this crew. Ad agencies need as much scrutiny as corrupt police.

  3. Rio real says:

    True, Michael! And gringa, I did, thank the Lord…

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