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Brasil 66 | The Generals and the Mad Men


Topic: Propaganda and advertising (Brazil)

Source: Meio&Mensagem (ABC Group)

X-Reference: ABC and Omnicom | A Dissenting View


Translation: CEB [to come]

A story that remains to be told: the ESPM.


To reflect on the relationship with and impact of the 1964 coup on the fledgling national advertising industry is a complex subject, but it is also an interesting instance of how power was exercised at that time, when an industry, over the course of the 21 years of the military regime, laid the foundations of one of the fastest growing ad industries in the world.

It was precisely in the 1960s and 1970s that the federal government, commanded by the generals, became the largest advertising client in Brazil. After all, the Brazilian miracle needed to be competently communicated to the public.

At the same time, the ad agencies of those times would up serving as a refuge for leftist professionals and regime opponents — intellectuals, artists, writers, and journalists, among other liberal professions. Censorship of advertising was much more lenient than the censorship of the news media, but even so was applied systematically.

It was, in fact, as a response to the threat of prior restraint by censors that the Self-Regulatory Code of Public Relations, the embryonic form of CONAR, was created. CONAR would be created two years later in response to the arbitrary conduct of censorship and remains a central reference down to the present day, not just in Brazil, but internationally as well.

The Power of MPM

Among the agencies active at the time with the closest ties to the military governments was MPM.

Ironically, the agency, created in Porto Alegre in 1957 by three partners, Antonio Mafuz (d. 2005), Petrônio Corrêa (d. 2013) and Luiz Macedo, owed its growth in the first years of its existence to the fact that Macedo was a nephew of the deposed president João Goulart.

In the early 1960s, MPM won the accounts of the Econômica Federal and Eletrobrás precisely because of this personal relationshipo, which would prove problematic for the agency in the aftermath of the coup.

On the eve of the coup, 31 March 1964, Macedo perceived that his ties with the deposed president — along with the fact that MPM had designed the campaign “say no to to parliamentary government,” in 1961, with the famous jingle by Miguel Gustavo, “Let’s Jango!” — could come back to haunt him. He decided to seek protection in São Borja, his native country.

In his haste, Gustavo had no time to suspend an ad for the state-owned Eletrobras that appeared in the leading dailies of Rio on April 10. The ad, bearing the logo of Eletrobras, dealt with the Sete Quedas hydroelectric project and was signed: “Another Success Story by Goulart.”

MPM partners Mafuz, Petrônio and Macedo feared retribution, and it was soon in coming. The Eletrobras ad, published in the Rio papers, resulted in a famous Military Police Inquiry (IPM) under the military government. The generals wanted to know what had led MPM to publish such an advertisement, suspecting that it was part of a larger conspiracy, but failing to understand that it was nothing more a common programming and ad scheduling practice between agencies and the press.

The IPM also wanted to know whether the advertisement had run in Última Hora, a Rio-based pro-Goulart daily. The proceedings closed thanks to the intervention of the father-in-law of MPM-RJ Nelson Gomes Leite, a friend of the future military president Costa e Silva.

In his efforts to put a definitive end to innuendo about the agency, Mafuz discovered that many of the military men who had recently assumed prestigious posts in the new regime had studied with him in the CPOR officer training program in Pelotas, 20 years before. These were intimate friends. Many were lieutenants and captains at the time but had now entered public office as colonels and generals. One of them would even campaign for the presidential presidency: Mário Andreazza.

After a great deal of conversation about and explanation of MPM’s activities, Mafuz was able to convince these friends that the investigation was nothing more than a misunderstanding.

It was precisely this «gaucho» relationship with most of the generals (nearly all were from Rio Grande do Sul) that enabled MPM not only to hold on to accounts with the federal government it had possessed during the Jango years, but also to win new government clients in the coming years. This was crucial factor for its consolidation as an agency.

Government Ad Spend With Brazilian Agencies Only

It was during the 1960s that the principal leaders of the advertising and public relations industry created a group that was initially formed in order to control the competition for government contracts.

Included in this consortium were Standard, MPM, Norton, Alcântara Machado, Mauro Salles Publicidade, Denison and, some years later, DPZ as well. This closed-door club, which accepted only thoroughbred Brazilian agencies, soon evolved. Along with major multinationals like J. Walter Thompson and McCann-Erickson, these seven agencies were the leading publicity agencies in Brazil and soon began to dictate the rules of the market. In time they became known as “The Seven Sisters.”

One of the rules established at the time was that business paid for with public funds could only be assigned to Brazilian agencies. The practice caught on and continued in force until the 1990s. It came to be known as the Macedo Law, after Luiz Macedo [of MPM].

If in subsequent years the Brazilian national advertising industry prospered and gained stability, this had a great deal to do with an informal but solid alliance of top agency executives. In 1972, Standard was bought by Ogilvy & Mather, ceasing to be a Seven Sister. Even so, in the backrooms of the industry, the phrase remained in use as a term for all of the most powerful ad agencies in Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s.


Unlike news vehicles, most of which had censors assigned to their offices to supervise the content created there, the censorship of advertising during the military regime was exercised at a distance. In the event that the content of certain spot or advertisement was regarded as a “threat,” a military censor would call the agency involved, or perhaps even pay a visit.

“We were worried, because often the clients pulled out the instant we were targeted … before we could defend the campaign in question,” recalls Roberto Duailibi, co-founder of DPZ.

Duailibi recalls a lawsuit filed against the agency in 1972 relating to censorship. The campaign in question marked the 15-year anniversary of the Peg&Pag retail chain with ads on the theme, “Things we do when we turn 15.” The ads were illustrated with such situations as peeking through a knothole as the maid changes clothes and driving without a license.

Just a few days before the ads aired, DPZ was sued by the censor, who considered the tone of the campaign an incitement to rebellion.

Attorney José Carlos Dias, a former Justice minister and currently a member of the Truth Commission, defended DPZ in the case.

“In my defense, I argued for the importance of humor and enlisted as one of defense witnesses the humorist Jô Soares, who came to Brasilia to testify that not all of what he said could be taken literally …”

DPZ won the case.

On September 6, 1978, Bill 40/72, authored by Senator José Lindoso (ARENA-Amapá) and instituting prior restraint on advertising — passed after six years on the congressional agenda.

The response from the advertising industry was swift and decisive. After all, if signed into law, the bill would create even more difficulties to air a given campaign. The bill dictated rules for advertising that included — along with censorship, which already existed — a mandatory certificate of quality inspection for the product being advertised. The bill considered labels and packaging to be advertising materials and not merely informative.

In the same year of 1978, in April, during the III Brazilian Advertising Congress, the industry, already gearing up to oppose this threat, approved the creation of the Code of Advertising Self-Regulation in order to oppose this and other legislation pending in the national congress and tending to aggravate censorship.

The function of the Code was simple and direct: to advocate for freedom of commercial expression and defend the interests of parties involved in the advertising industry, including the interests of the consumer. At the end of the Geisel presidency, in 1979, the “slow, gradual democratic opening” began and the Lindoso bill was buried for good. Industry self-regulation showed itself to be a most effective method for these purposes and, in 1980, CONAR was finally created …