The Brazilian elections: The campaign’s lessons for the public relations world

The impact of Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s campaign brought important reflections for strategic communication…
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By Rogério Artoni

As the dust settles on Brazil’s presidential elections (October 2018), Brazilians are already measuring the impact of Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s election as the 38th President of the Republic.

Regardless of political orientation, Bolsonaro’s campaign cannot be ignored. It was a political campaign that brought important reflections for strategic communication across the country and around the world.

Bolsonaro’s campaign broke paradigms. Unlike the previous campaign strategies deployed in the country, the candidate’s crusade was primarily digital. All the invested effort went into producing lives (i.e. Facebook live, Instagram live, live Twitter video, etc.), WhatsApp content and “memefication” – simple and effective content reaching its target audience in the most appropriate manner.

Even the campaign’s visual communication was distinct in its choice of camera aesthetics and the quality of the videos which avoided being over produced, cinematographic or too detailed and focused instead on portraying a down to earth simple point of view designed to resonate with the audiences (the voters).

Brazil is a fertile field for digital strategies. With a total population of 208.5 million (according to official data), the country is known for being very active on social networking platforms – there are some 130 million monthly active users on Facebook and approximately 120 million use WhatsApp.

Despite the focus on digital, traditional media such as television and radio were also used, but only in a controlled manner that suited the campaign (or occasionally when it absolutely could not be avoided).

The newscasts covered Bolsonaro, but he only went to those spaces he deemed convenient; instead of opening himself up to journalists he focused on directing journalists to his controlled content.

The public relations team’s strength stemmed from understanding the target audience and focusing on it. In practical terms, only 51% of the population needs to be convinced. This is what the campaign did, and it was a winner. The team understood the need to craft the candidate’s persona, fine-tune the discussion and deliver it through appropriate channels.

There is a lesson for future elections and for all public relations strategy: no matter how many rules are established in the game, it is always important to understand that there are possibilities for new paths.

Business Brief

From the business standpoint, following the election Brazil is expected to undergo a positive phase that will be much more open to foreign companies, with a more liberal bias and possible political and tax reforms. The oil & gas markets will receive significant investment in the coming years; the Brazilian National Oil Agency (ANP) forecasted 200 billion dollars of investment. In addition, there have been rounds of bids for oil exploitation in important regions of Brazil, which should also drive high growth in the country.


Race Comunicação is a corporate communication agency that works with crises management, internal communication, management of social media and media training.

The company serves clients in various sectors including transport, food, pharmaceutical, engineering, construction, shopping malls, sport, health and technology and has clients across Brazil and beyond.

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