Understanding Brazil's diverse make-up

For those willing to invest in Brazil, it is important to know that the country is extremely diverse in its social, racial, and economic make-up.

For those willing to invest in Brazil, it is important to know that the country is extremely diverse in its social, racial, and economic make-up.

In recent census data in Brazil, more than 50% of the population was self-identified as blacks or people of color, changing the way Brazilians used to perceive themselves in past decades.

Many are not aware that the largest population of blacks outside of Africa is found in Brazil, not in the US. During its three centuries of slavery history, Brazil received an influx of more than 4.8 million people from Africa.

Besides its indigenous populations and people of African descent, Brazil also holds the second-largest population of Japanese descent outside of Japan. In addition, Brazil has received groups from several parts of Europe such as Portugal, Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as immigrants from the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

Some facts about people of African descent in Brazil, collected from the website Afro-Brazilian.com, are:

  • More than 49% of Brazilians are black, mulatto, or pardo (multiracial Brazilians).
  • Slavery in Brazil was officially abolished on May 13, 1888.
  • As of 2007, the largest Afro-Brazilian metropolitan area is Salvador, Bahia, with more than 1.8 million (53.8%) pardos and 990,375 blacks (28.5%). The state of Bahia also has the largest percentage of pardos (62.9%) and blacks (15.7%).
  • Although Afro-Brazilians are mainly Catholics, many also practice Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. A growing number of Brazilians have joined Protestant religions throughout the country.
  • Capoeira, one of the most iconic symbols of Brazilian culture, was introduced to Brazil through enslaved Africans from Angola and Mozambique.
  • African culture has been instrumental in the development of Brazilian cuisine; Feijoada, one of Brazil's staple dishes, was developed by African slaves.
  • Blacks still have a low representation in Brazilian TV and media in general.
Understanding regional differences is crucial for the development of a national marketing strategy. According to a report on Brazil by Millward Brown in 2006, “National identity has become very important. ‘Brazilianness' is something companies and brands are exploiting more often.” As an example, Havaianas flip flops feature the Brazilian flag in some of their products, creating a sense of “unity” through the use of a national symbol for local and international consumption.

Companies willing to do business in Brazil must be aware that the country is formed by a complex, multicultural, and dynamic population. Specific and targeted research on local and regional markets, with analysis of recent demographics and economic trends, may lead to successful campaigns that attract new consumers and investments.

Paulo Lima is senior adviser for the Hispanic practice at Lagrant Communications.

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