Monday, July 25, 2011

The Trendiest Beer in Brazil - It's "Salacious" Devassa

Wanton, dissolute, lecherous, salacious, libertine, immoral, slutty, loose and bawdy - these are just some of the translations the dictionary suggests for the Portuguese-language adjective devasso (devassa when modifying a feminine noun). The list isn't complete according to most complete dictionary, but it's enough to for you to get the picture. Calling someone devasso/devassa ascribes a high-living, low-moral, totally-untrustworthy character to that person.Usually not a compliment.

So would you think that Devassa might be a good way to describe a beer? "That beer was totally lecherous, wasn't it?" or "You gotta try this one, it's loose and bawdy." Well, it appears that in Brazil at least it's an excellent way to describe a beer, since a relatively new family of beers called Devassa has taken the Brazilian market by storm, thanks in part to an extremely clever marketing campaign that plays on all the aspects of the word devassa.

Devassa was originally a small microbrewery, founded in 2001 by a small group of beer enthusiasts, located in the run-down port area of Rio de Janeiro. Its production capability was limited, and its distribution restricted to Rio and a few specialty bars in São Paulo. It sold very well in the areas it was available, and gained a reputation among fans of good beer nationwide in Brazil, mostly due to word-of-mouth.

In 2007 the entrepreneurs who founded Devassa sold the brand to large Brazilian brewery Schincariol, who had the productive capacity and national distribution network to take the brand nationwide. The original Devassa had consisted of three beers, all available only on draft or in long-neck 12 oz bottles. These three beers were called Loura, Ruiva, and Negra (meaning Blonde, Redhead, and Blackhaired) and the names referenced styles of beer - one light lager (the blonde, naturally), one pale ale (the redhead), and one dark ale (the black-haired beauty). Schincariol added one new beer to the family, Bem Loura (really Blonde) a typical Brazilian light lager, available in 12 oz. cans and 600 ml bottles and sold at a lower price point than the three original brews.

Besides the brewing capacity and distribution network one additinal thing that Schincariol brought to Devassa was the financial capability to launch a huge national advertising campaign for Devassa. One that was edgy, youthful and which pushed the leading edge of 21st century marketing techniques. Their first national campaign featured American famous-cuz-she's famous Paris Hilton. In the TV commercial that Ms Hilton did for Devassa she is shown through the windows of a beachfront apartment in Rio, opening a refrigerator, pulling out an ice-cold can of Bem Loura and rubbing it all over her presumably-wanton body, all the while being photographed by a neighbor across the street and ogled by passersby and beachgoers. There was no nudity in the commercial, no faked-orgasm on the part of Paris, but the sight of a frosty Devassa being rubbed on Paris' thighs and in her cleavage was enough to send CONAR, an industry self-regulation body of advertising standards, into a snit-fit. They blocked the ad, forbidding it to be televised. According to a spokeswoman for CONAR this was because the ad "depreciates the female body and demoralizes blonde women." Here's the ad, from YouTube:

The censoring of the Devassa campaign was manna from heaven for Schincariol. The withdrawal of the ad was a topic on national TV news programs, covered in newspapers and magazines, and of course the whole thing went viral on the Internet. As they say, "You can't pay for publicity like that." Schincariol cleverly retooled the campaign (without the continued presence of Paris Hilton) but with beautiful blondes and cans of Devassa alike displaying black bands of censorship across "sensitive areas."

Coming as it did just at the time Devassa went national, the whole scandal created a tremendous product awareness for the beer, which was unknown in most of Brazil up to that time. The demand for Devassa shot up dramatically and when the beer went national it sold out almost everywhere, even at premium prices. Ordering a Bem Loura became a sign of hipness - you know, "I'll have a really blonde one, please." A continued marketing campaign playing on the connotations of the word devassa kept the brand in the public's mind. In the end, the launch of Devassa was the most successful launch of a new brand of beer in Brazilian history. Thanks to it's clever name, thanks to Paris Hilton feeling a tad hottish in the heat of a  Rio summer, and especially thanks to the crowd of buffoons at CONAR.

Besides being trendy and hip, is Devassa any good, though? We'll see what Brazilian beer critics say shortly here at Flavors of Brazil.

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