Brand Neymar scores with Brazil’s emerging consumers
Footballer’s humble origins and playful style endear him to ordinary Brazilians
A mural showing Brazilian footballer Neymar and Angenor de Oliveira, known as Cartola, a Brazilian singer and composer (1908-1980) at the Terreirao do Samba (Samba Land), in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA
In a huge shopping mall just off São Paulo’s main drag 18-year old delivery boy Clayton Neves is spending some of his lunch hour checking out Brazil football tops.
Earning just above Brazil’s minimum wage, one will cost him around a week’s salary. But he has already decided he must have one before the World Cup and already knows which name he would like printed on its back. “Neymar’s of course,” he smiles, his two sparkling ear studs and tipped-up baseball cap marking him out as a follower of Brazilian street style funk ostentação (ostentatious funk) just like his footballing hero.
With the build-up to the World Cup reaching its peak, Neymar jr is everywhere in Brazil. Every night seems to have an interview with the 22-year- old forward on TV.
He graces the cover of this month’s local edition of Vogue with model Gisele Bündchen and currently appears in what feels like every third ad across the country. Readers of the country’ s celebrity magazines avidly following his relationship with Bruna Marquezine, a young soap opera star who currently holds the title of Brazil’s sweetheart.
In part this is because any player expected to lead Brazil’s assault on another world title inevitably becomes the focus of intense attention. This is even truer when he does so with a sense of daring, improvisation and fun that recalls the best of Brazil’s football traditions.
In a country where fans often lament how European clubs train the magic out of the Brazilian talent they snap up at ever younger ages, Neymar first made his name winning a hatful of titles in Santos’s most glorious run since Pelé was leading its line, before his move to Barcelona last year.
Brazilian fans feel they know him. “It is not just that he is the best footballer on the team,” says Clayton. “He’s a joker both on and off the pitch. He didn’t become one of those players who after they become stars get all self-important. He’s a cool guy of course, but also always ready to dance!”
This appeal has helped turn Neymar into a marketing phenomenon. “He is a hugely charismatic kid with an easy smile who personifies the image of the happy Brazilian, the kid who plays a joyful football, which makes him very interesting to companies,” says Rafael Plastina, a Brazilian sports marketing analyst.
From a humble background, and as one who still wears the clothing and listens to the sounds of the country’s urban periphery, Neymar is especially attractive to firms seeking to reach the country’s emerging consumer class, tens of millions of people lifted out of poverty in the last decade who are now a major driver of the economy.