Brazil has long been derided as the country of a future that has yet to arrive. At various points throughout history, Brazil has seemingly been on the brink of realizing its vast potential, only to see progress stymied by political instability, corruption, economic mismanagement and poverty to the extreme.
That history is now a distant memory, as Brazil today has unequivocally hit its stride. In less than a decade, Brazil has managed to not only catch up with its future, it now looks set to surpass the futures of so many others in the region and beyond. Much of this can be attributed to the cunningly visionary leadership of President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva (Lula) a former leftist Labor leader who grew the economy, eliminated debt, earned the country its first investment grade, and won competitive international bids for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. With a population of over 200 million, an abundant supply of natural resources, and a progressive energy policy, Brazil has set its sights on being the next China, yet true to form remains ready to party as the host of not just one, but two of the world's largest sporting events, nearly back to back.
Next year, Lula will step down. He will be succeeded by either Dilma Rousseff, his handpicked successor, or Jose Serra, an established politician and former mayor of Sao Paolo. But regardless of who wins the run-off election this Sunday, one thing is clear: the presidency may change, but the country's brand -- cultivated locally, but refined by Lula in his mission to expand Brazil's influence beyond its borders -- will remain intact.
What is the Brazilian brand? Just think of the country's signature dance, the samba: cool, sexy, worry-free, yet performed with subtle skill to a highly intricate and incredibly sophisticated beat.
The Brazilian economy this year is projected to grow more than 7 percent, outperforming the U.S. and Europe and leading the Western Hemisphere overall. There is no reason to suspect that growth will slow anytime soon: the labor force is young and aspirational; the small business sector is booming; the middle class is expanding; and much-needed social improvements are thoroughly underway. Fueling all this activity is a cadre of Brazilian multinationals and brands that are competing successfully on the world stage, and dismantling whatever misconceptions lingered about Brazil as a mismanaged backwater.
And for those cynics who think this current version of Brazil's future is just a mirage: look even further ahead. Brazil did not become the first South American country awarded the Olympics by default, or simply on the basis of Lula's politicking. Rio won after a smart, progressive and innovative plan that addressed not only the strategic elements of how the city would effectively host the world's highest profile sporting event, but also how the event itself would become the touchstone in an ongoing sustainable design and planning revolution that started at the national level decades ago. Brazil's bid contained a number of elements that could make Rio the world's first "Green Olympics." As any architect, entrepreneur or brand manager can tell you, the Green Stamp of approval, these days, is worth its weight in gold.
Sounds pretty appealing, right? But what does this mean for the U.S, our companies and our homegrown brands?
In short, Brazil's young population and thriving middle class is a market we simply cannot afford to ignore. Aligning ourselves with its energy and opening ourselves to its innovation is more than just a good opportunity, it is by now a necessity. Some, like Nike, discovered this a while ago, and by aligning themselves with the national passion -- football (soccer) -- the brand has tapped into the vigor of local youth culture and created its very own Brazilian identity. Another success story is Azul, Brazil's first low-cost airline, a domestic brand shaped in the image of JetBlue by its founder David Neeleman and now one of the world's rock-star new brands. But it's not just market-driven players who can benefit: the U.S. may still be stressed by the effects of the Great Recession, but the history of Brazil will tell you that they have faced far worse, and survived, by sheer force of their culture of cool and creative imagination.
No economy is immune to disruptions. Like all emerging areas, Brazil still has obstacles to overcome and may hit a few bumps along the way. But the country and its brand are on the right track, and have plenty of things to teach the world. Not only should we be open to its lessons, we should also quickly get hip by developing ideas, products and campaigns that both engage this dynamic audience and leverage their lifestyle for our own benefit. With everything that Brazil has to offer at the moment, that should not be a difficult task.