Anything-goes Carnival: Playing with the Swiss image

Samba dancers sponsored by the Swiss help to re-engineer an image. Keystone

For the Swiss, the anything-goes Brazilian Carnival presents a prime marketing opportunity in one of the world’s biggest emerging markets – and a chance to knock down a few clichés about themselves.

This content was published on February 17, 2015 and agencies

The Swiss government and corporate sponsors like Nestlé, Syngenta and UBS paid about a third of the 14 million Brazilian reais (CHF4.5 million) that Unidos da Tijuca, one of the oldest samba schools in Rio de Janeiro and the defending champion of the flagship samba parade, spent this year on the elaborate contest.

In exchange for the sponsorship, the school's dancers donned Swiss-inspired costumes and blended the sensual beat of the samba drum with the colourful floats, while carrying props suggestive of the Alpine nation such as alpenhorns and Swiss flags.

Nicolas Bideau, head of Presence Switzerland, which oversees the nation's image abroad, said the samba school represented the country and introduced the "Swiss made" label to a country where it is virtually unknown but has the biggest market for Latin American consumers. He said the dancers prepared for a half-year and evoked the nation's history including everything from Swiss Guards to Solar Impulse.

It was part of the growing phenomenon of schools looking for sponsors to deflect the costs of costumes, choreographers and set designers, while offering a chance to draw attention at the ever-riotous and commercial Carnival.

“To defeat clichés you have to play with them,” Andre Regli, the Swiss ambassador to Brazil, told Reuters. “Clichés go both ways, and in Switzerland there was a lot of resistance to getting involved in carnival ... For many, carnival was just about topless women.” The Swiss carnival season is also underway, albeit with costumes better suited to a winter climate.

The combination of a global television audience and more than 100 samba schools has attracted cash from a range of nations and corporate sponsors. But economic weakness, drought and the scent of scandal that regularly accompanies Carnival’s commercialisation have all contributed to the festivities being downsized this year.

State-owned oil company Petrobras remains a sponsor, despite its massive corruption scandal, while the 10 million reais (CHF3.2 million) contributed by Equatorial Guinea has raised eyebrows for enlisting another top samba school, Beija-Flor, to celebrate the dictator-led nation.

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