10.05.11

Too Sexy for Brazil

The Brazilian government attacks a sexy lingerie ad campaign with übermodel Gisele Bündchen as sexist, prompting cartoons, lampoons—and the underwear company laughing all the way to the bank.

Last year, when Brazilian lingerie maker Hope hired Gisele Bündchen to strut its brand, it reckoned it had scored a winner. After all, landing the Brazilian übermodel—touted by Forbes as the world’s first fashion billionairess in the making—would be a marketing coup for any business. What the company didn’t count on was a free boost from the Brazilian bureaucracy. 

Late in September, Sandra Chayo, Hope’s marketing director, was tending store at the booming women’s intimate-wear company when the switchboard started to blaze. It was the Brazilian press calling, wanting to know the company’s reaction to a government drive to ban a new ad campaign featuring Gisele. The government does not have the power to unilaterally pull the campaign, but has asked that the company kill it—or if it doesn’t, that the publicity council, Conar, force it to do so. 

The ad, a familiar Brazilian blend of sensuality and sassy good fun, casts Bündchen as a fashionista, teaching women how—and how not—to break bad news to a husband. In one scene, a penitent missus in a shapeless tube dress scratches her head and admits to having crashed the car. In take two, labeled “right,” the camera closes on a leggy temptress with hands akimbo and in battle gear—matching Hope red panties and bra—who confesses the same crime. “Again,” she says.  

In another sequence, Bündchen—now frumpy, now barely clad—tells Hubby she’s maxed out the credit cards. “You’re a Brazilian woman. Use your charm,” says the narrator. Yet another vignette has the Hope-wrapped Bündchen breaking the news that the mother-in-law is moving in. 

“We had no intention of offending anyone,” says Chayo. “The spot was done in the spirit of good-humored irreverence, playing with the idea of how women use their beauty in everyday situations.”

Everybody in Brazil got it. Brasília did not. 

"The spot was done in the spirit of good-humored irreverence." Everybody in Brazil got it. Brasília did not.

The government agency backed its broadside against Hope, claiming to have received “indignant protests” over the ad campaign. “The advertisement reinforces the misleading stereotype of women merely as sexual objects of their husbands and ignores the great advances we have made to deconstruct such sexist practices and thinking,” declared Minister Iriny Lopes, head of the federal government’s Women Policy Secretariat, in a three-page complaint to Brazil’s Council for Publicity Regulation, which monitors advertising. Lopes also accused Hope of violating two separate articles of the Brazilian Constitution as well an Inter-American Convention on eradicating violence against women.  

The Brazilian media, meanwhile, feasted. Chico Caruso, a cartoonist for the Rio daily O Globo, drew the bespectacled minister in a Hope bikini. Sergio Augusto, Brazil’s foremost cultural columnist, skewered the tone-deaf government’s attempt to trample irony in the name of the “feministically correct,” while one netizen blogged about the keepers of the state trying to “annex the human body.”  

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Chico Caruso

Hope’s campaign is vintage Bündchen. Besides the to-die-for body, the Brazilian model has a storied sense of humor that has become a part of her catwalk persona. Joking about Brazil’s lopsided justice system, which pampers the well-heeled and better-educated prisoners, she once said, “I regret not having a college degree, because say something happens to me, and I wouldn’t have the right to a special jail cell.” 

Hope has been circumspect. A midsize family firm, run by Chayo and her two sisters, the company is one of Brazil’s top women’s intimate-wear brands, with sales growing 15 to 20 percent a year for the last five years. Would Brasília’s clampdown derail Hope’s bull run? Though the company is still crunching the numbers since the Gisele imbroglio, Chayo says its sales team has been fielding “hundreds of calls and letters” from supportive customers. She also says that one prospective American retailer has expressed renewed interest in representing the brand since the controversy broke.  

“People have shown a good sense of humor over this whole matter,” she says, citing the scores of parodies the Bündchen affair has inspired in print and on the Web. “We watch the parodies as they come in and just have to laugh.” All the way to the bank.