Studies of the United States’ influence on Brazil (and other Latin American nations) have a long tradition. Woodard’s book takes a novel approach to this influence, focusing on the “implantation and adaptation of institutions, practices, products, and modes of thought originally associated with the consumer capitalism of the United States” (4). Rather than offering yet another denunciation or lamentation of U.S. influence, he shows how Brazilians creatively recast this very U.S. form of capitalism into their own particular version from the 1920s to the 1980s. Woodard’s book skillfully explains “how these processes unfolded, identifying and understanding their principal agents, tracing the growth of Brazilian consumer capitalism and the processes by which it became national and contributed to the making of modern Brazil” (7).
One of the most significant contributions of this study is Woodward’s use of the publications of trade and industry associations, their archives, and the accounts of the key figures, especially in the world of advertising and marketing. A good deal of this densely documented account are the words of the “principal agents” and their own reflections on the rise of Brazilian consumer capitalism. Most saw themselves as making the way for modernity in twentieth-century Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the country’s two massive cultural, economic, and financial centers. Woodard singles out banks, business associations, and key branches of government as the three great contributors to this uncoordinated, unplanned, and highly contingent process.
At the core of Woodard’s analysis is the emergence of advertising agencies, the professionals who ran them, and their increasing success over decades. The first cohort of professionals to arrive from the United States in the 1920s and 1930s worked mainly for General Motors, General Electric, and J. Walter Thompson to promote automobile imports. Advertising flourished first with the rise of radio broadcasting and then with the advent of the published press and movies. Historically under the cultural influence of Europe—especially France and England—the rise of consumerism turned Brazilians increasingly toward U.S. cultural influence in the 1930s and 1940s. The “true revolution in consumption” emerged in the 1950s, driven by “prosperity professionals” who encouraged the expansion of consumer credit, installment buying, advertising, and sales promotion; they became self-appointed “educators of a buying public” (138). Their work gave birth to market and media research that included sophisticated polling and data about consumers and social classes. Most prominently, the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (ibope), founded in the 1940s, became the iconic example of the new approach to marketing. Through the skilled use of the prosperity professionals’ own writings, Woodard shows how they saw themselves acting in the “national interest,” while ironically producing their own critique of consumerism and the “American way of life.”
Woodard tracks the transformation of U.S. holidays—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas—into Brazilian ones, each with its own national characteristics. The rise of supermarkets (beginning in the 1950s) brought self-service, cash and carry, and one-stop shopping to Brazilian consumers in major cities. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the most striking feature of the consumer revolution was the creation of shopping centers, the “new cathedrals of consumption” (22). The state helped to move the revolution forward by subsidizing newsprint and by joining the advertising, marketing, and business professions to advance a mass-consumption revolution—an age of consumerism with a large middle class.
One of the most interesting and novel contributions of Woodard’s study is his analysis of the rise and development of marketing and advertising. He estimates that Brazil had 5,000 marketing professionals at the beginning of the 1960s and 40,000 by the mid-1970s. The advertising professionals steered the “commercialization of the press, the rise of radio broadcasting, and the growth of television” (308). In the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of television, particularly the Globo Network, adapted U.S. media expertise to Brazil’s society and culture. Television became the dominant advertising medium and a powerful driving force in the promotion of consumer demand.
Drawing on works from business, advertising, marketing, sociology, and history, Woodard weaves together an interdisciplinary interpretation of the rise of consumer culture in twentieth-century Brazil. The rise of automobile ownership and culture, the shopping mall, and the supermarket from the 1950s onward resulted in a Brazilian form of consumer capitalism that had come into its own by the mid-1970s. As Woodard demonstrates in detail, this Brazilian version of U.S consumer capitalism was an entirely unscripted process that transpired over decades and owed little to direct support from the state beyond its endorsement of the new age of consumerism.