Marketing in Brazil with Octagon’s John Shea

Posted on by Patricia Odell

In 2010, Octagon acquired B2S, a Rio-based agency, putting a stake in the ground in Brazil with four employees. Today, Octagon also has offices in São Paulo and 50+ full-time employees.

The expectation that Brazil would emerge as a vigorous new market for brand markets has borne out, yet many international brands have not yet, or only starting to enter that market.

John Shea, a 19-year Octagon veteran, recently promoted to president, Octagon Marketing Americas is responsible for the agency’s marketing business in both North and South America, which includes the consulting, creative, digital, merchandising, multicultural and municipal marketing divisions. He talked with Chief Marketer about the challenges and rewards of marketing in Brazil, where the agency works with Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, AmBev, MasterCard and Oi among others.

2014 FIFA World CupCM: What factors contributed to your decision to enter Brazil?
SHEA: As a global agency, we have been active with FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games sponsors for 25+ years.  In this regard, we are often expanding our geographic footprint to serve companies that support these events. A more targeted focus on Brazil started in 2009 based on these factors and the explosion of their economy.

CM:  Other than language, what are the top three differences/challenges between marketing here in the U.S and marketing in Brazil?
SHEA: There are different societal factors, historical factors, and environmental factors (such as media consumption) that represent distinct differences between marketing in the U.S. or Europe versus marketing in Brazil.

CM: Can you share a bit of insight from each?
SHEA: From an environmental perspective, the fact that the best players in Brazil leave to earn their fortunes playing in Europe has impacted how Brazilians relate to—and engage with—the sport of football. Our Passion Drivers research that we have conducted among fans in Brazil versus other mature football markets in Europe, reveals why fans are fans and quantifies the emotional connections that fans in Brazil have is a little more complex than we see among football fans in Europe. In European markets, the relationship between consumers and football is purely tribal. It is dominated by the “Team Devotion” factor, so brands in those markets that sponsor football need to become part of that tribe. In Brazil, consumers have a strong connection to their team. But they also have a strong connection to the star players and this provides different opportunities for brands to connect with football fans as players provide more compelling and relevant ways to connect with consumers in Brazil.

From a societal perspective, we see that for the upcoming Olympics—unlike in the U.S. or the UK—the Summer Olympics are not firmly engrained in the cultural mindset of Brazilian society. For UK consumers, “Nostalgia” was a lot more important than we see in Brazil because of the long-standing history with the event. Likewise American consumers connect to the Games themselves and their team and athletes, whereas in Brazil where the Olympics have historically not been an integral event, it is much less engrained so brands have more freedom to define their relationship to the Games, help create that consumer connection and write that Olympic narrative.

From a media perspective, clearly there are significant differences in how Brazilian fans feed their passions based on a different mainstream media landscape and differences in digital, social and mobile media consumption habits. So not only do we need to create different messaging to connect with Brazilian consumers, but how we get that message out to the fans will be different in the Brazilian market.

CM:  What is the most cutting edge marketing ploy you have executed recently in Brazil?
SHEA: Two recent programs include:

Johnson & Johnson

Following a strategy of caring for those who care for fans on-site at the FIFA Confederations Cup, J&J provided volunteers in all six host cities free health screenings including vision, Body Mass Index (BMI), Hepatitis C and Diabetes tests in an effort to encourage them to continue caring for their health and well-being. More than 2,000 volunteers took advantage of this opportunity, and J&J will continue the program in all 12 host cities during the FIFA World Cup. This was unprecedented at a FIFA tournament and was recognized by FIFA and fellow sponsors as an innovative program for volunteers.

Wise Up

The Dream Job program was a consumer promotion providing Wise Up students exclusive access to paid for/ volunteering positions where their language skills make a difference, providing an active proof point for Wise Up’s positioning.  We had hundreds of applications for FIFA Confederations Cup program in only two days of registration. For FIFA World Cup, we have more than 1,000 applicants to date.

CM: What are the top three challenges you face in preparing for the World Cup? Olympics?
SHEA: As with all major events, preparing for the inevitable unknowns remains our greatest challenge. However, more tactical areas of focus include: Hiring and training experienced support staff to complement our full-time team based in Brazil. It is essential that we work with local partners to identify and train event staff to meet the demands of our business and expectations of our clients. Preparing for the scale and scope of each of these very different events is critical. The World Cup will require us and our clients to have redundant operations in multiple cities given the size of the country and schedule of games.  The Olympic Games in comparison will be focused in Rio which will present unique infrastructure challenges given the concentration of activities in one of the world’s busiest cities.

CM: Have your expectations for Brazil as a new market for brands borne out?
SHEA: Yes, the strength of the economy and our success in securing clients across the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games suggest the market is strong. We are confident in our ability to help our clients grow their business based on the passion for sports and entertainment in Brazil.

CM: How do the major political, economic and social shifts in Brazil impact your marketing decisions?
SHEA: These dynamic situations require us to be proactive and reactive with our clients and their plans/programs.  We believe the following are keys to success in developing programs for our clients:


  • All programs and issues should be dealt with openly and transparently by a sponsor to show that they are a responsible company.


  • To make people understand that the investment makes a difference in the long run and that sponsors are responsible stakeholders when it comes to social, economic and cultural issues that affect the society.

Legacy is paramount

      • Making people understand that major events are catalysts that spark investments from sponsors that the country might not see otherwise, and more importantly, that those investments benefit the country and the people in the long-run and are beyond pure marketing investments that have self-serving purposes

Focus on memorable celebrations

        • Making sure people have opportunities to celebrate these two unique events to the fullest and giving them a chance to actively participate to make sure positive emotions will overpower any negative sentiments. These are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Sponsor the city (country), not only the games

        • The idea here is to focus on the city (country) and the positive impact and benefits these events will have which in turn will benefit the citizens.

CM: What are your expansion plans for South America?
SHEA: At this stage our plans remain focused on realizing our full potential in Brazil. We will of course continue to evaluate new markets based on specific client needs as well as economic development / strength.

CM: What advice would you give to a brand’s chief marketing officer who is considering the Brazilian marketplace?
SHEA: It is a market with great potential, but you must have sound local leadership with experience doing business in Brazil. The legislation that directly impacts some of your marketing decisions is highly complex and requires local expert advice. As a practical example, consumer promotions are governed and supervised by a government institution which requires months of lead-time, plenty of paperwork and fees to get approved. Add to this a highly complex legal, taxation and importation systems and you are looking at a very difficult market to do business in, especially for foreign companies.


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