“Doing Anthropology” / Dr. Charles Gore
VENDORS ON IPANEMA BEACH
MACRO MARKETING STRATEGIES IN A MICRO ECONOMY
Lying on the warm sands of Ipanema beach in Rio De Janeiro is mostly known as a great
lazy pastime, but can also be an interesting fieldwork experience. The soundtrack is
somehow a pleasant and non-intrusive cacophony of calls of many vendors (sometimes
in a singing mode, and in some cases even accompanied by improvised musical
instruments) fading in and out, blending into one another, and into the noise of the
powerful Atlantic waves - creating a busy, stimulating however pleasant and
non-disruptive audio ambience/space which can become a nice meditative background
sound-scape to allow you to relax and even dose off in the heat.... (A bit like those
"relaxation" CDs and cassettes you can buy with "ocean sounds" or other nature sounds
to help you relax and meditate. a "sounds of Ipanema Beach" CD might be a good idea...)
However a deeper look into the commercial activity carried on the 2 miles long strip of
land, reveals a whole world of social relationships, hierarchies, intrigues, manipulation,
diplomacy, psychology and implementation of sophisticated marketing techniques,
whose principals are the same ones used by multi-nationals in their global marketing
My position on the beach was definitely that of a participant-observer. Spending on-and
-off two weeks on the same section of the beach, being a good customer, talking
extensively to the vendors (who after a while stopped viewing me as a potential customer,
and started treating me as an "amigo" where they can stop for a break and a chat before
continuing walking up and down with their merchandising.) One occasion, on my last day
on the beach, I was even mistaken for a vendor myself while filming the vendors with my
video camera, and was asked if I am selling dodgy video cameras…
In a crumbling economy, Ipanema's beach vendors prove to be successful in "making a
living" by applying attraction and persuasion strategies that are also used in multi-million
dollars marketing campaigns and in training customer relations officers in the western
In this paper I will pinpoint some of these western global marketing techniques and will
examine the vendors’ modus operandi in applying them "in the field".
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
Being one of the biggest countries (in area and in population density) in the developing
world (or as it is more popularly known as "the third world"), Brazil’s increasing
urbanization is facing a new challenge: how to arrest the decline in urban environment
and living conditions.
Rio is a mega metropolis with over 10 million inhabitants, of which 20% live in 600
Favelas, poverty -stricken neighbourhoods and slums built on the hills, where the heavily
armed drug "mafia" took control and is in fact ruling the neighbourhoods (as recently
portrayed in the Brazilian film "City of God”). During the two weeks that I recently spent in
Brazil, 10 passers-by were shot in Rio's Favelas, and the local police remain completely
Facing these problems, and the growth and increasing migration from rural Brazil to the
big cities, the local authority is not objecting, and in fact, encouraging and facilitating the
informal sector of street mobile vendors, regulating their activity and supervising them.
This is in accordance with the United Nations development programme, and the report
published in 1997 by the employment sector entitled "Urban Poverty and The Informal
Sector”. This report's conclusion was that as the informal sector (markets, street
vendors etc) “accounts for a substantial, and increasing, share of urban employment in
most developing countries, and since a large majority of the urban poor depend on such
activities for their livelihood, any credible strategy to reduce urban poverty in these
countries must pay due attention to this sector." (Sethuraman 1997).
The informal sector’s activity grows and becomes more significant "in hard times". In a
report on Mexico in the 1990s (Martin, 2000) it clearly states that this sector took an
added significance in the immediate wake of the peso crisis in 1994.
Brazil's current economic crisis therefore just adds to the significance and importance of
the informal sector.
Keith Hart (1973) differentiates between the illegitimate "informal Sector" including illegal
activities such as: hustling, dealing with stolen goods, drug pushing, prostitution,
corruption and bribery to the legitimate one. Ipanema’s beach vendors belong to the last
category. (There are some incidents of dealing with stolen or fraud goods - like fake
watches etc. - but normally not on the beach. The beach trade seems regulated; same
faces day after day - trading with the same goods.)
Ipanema is a rich quarter of Rio. Many of the vendors I spoke with on the beach come
from Favelas and lower class suburbs of Rio, yet the atmosphere on the beach is friendly
and non-threatening, with some clever marketing techniques applied to create a vibrant,
yet non- intrusive and non-disturbing commercial activity - anything from drink and food
(including grilled cheese or shrimps skewers prepared right in front of you on the beach)
to jewellery, clothes, pirate CDs, fashion accessories, suntan oils, artefacts, pictures of
Catholic saints, Candomble amulets and even massages and sex…(the latter is
sometimes "solicited" on the beach, but not performed there ...)
The following observations, which I will categorize by certain known global marketing
techniques, and will show how they are implemented on Ipanema beach, were carried out
during two weeks in cosmopolitan and “tourist-infested” Rio and compared to the perhaps
more “natural” behaviour of vendors on the more provincial local beach of Porto Da Barra
in Salvador, Bahia.
SERVICE WITH A SMILE
One of the basic rules in “Western” direct marketing and customers service is “always
smile”. In basic training courses, customer service and sales assistants are taught to
“always smile” (even if they don’t feel like doing so). A big percentage of Ipanema beach
vendors have learnt the secret of smiling, and are very good in implementing it.
Dragging sometimes-heavy boxes up and down the sandy beach in an average
temperature of 30c and high humidity is physically difficult, but the secret of charming the
customers (who are there to have fun, relax, and forget their day-to-day troubles) is not to
look suffering, but to smile and be patient.
In comparison to their colleagues in Salvador beach, who were clearly demonstrating
their obvious physical distress of walking up and down the beach with a heavy load, bent
and sweaty and hardly smiling – those in Ipanema looked as if they had just graduated in
excellence from a “how to serve customers” course – implementing the known “tricks”:
look in the eyes, smile, be patient and talkative and look as if you are enjoying yourself. I
have noticed many of the vendors looking sweaty, tired, “long-faced” and bent while
dragging their goods in the empty areas on the beach, but as soon as they approach the
“populated” areas their posture changes, they wipe their sweat and put on a big
full-heartedly smile on their face. They do not seem in a rush, and pause when they feel
the customer is hesitating or is examining out their merchandise or looking at them, say
nicely ”Bom Dia” (good day) and will easily go into a small conversation with you, even if
you don’t show interest in buying what they offer.
At the same time they do not impose themselves on you, “give you space”, and do not
insist if you seem uninterested.
Another main difference between Salvador’s and Ipanema’s vendors is patience, “easy
going” attitude and readiness of the latter to go into a small-talk conversation with you.
Many of the vendors in Ipanema, reacting to a friendly smile, stopped “resting” by me for a
few minutes before continuing dragging their goods, asking "where are you from" and my
very basic Portuguese mixed with Spanish allowed me to start a personal conversation,
hearing about where they live, their family and in many cases (especially with young
vendors) I would soon hear that they only do this to finance their studies.
I might be a bit cynical here but I doubt that all the vendors stopping by me are indeed
studying in the evenings as they say - perhaps this is another sophisticated technique to
get the sympathy of western tourists? The appreciation to education and to the will to
study and better oneself is being tackled here in a clever psychological way. The vendors
I met and talked to did not behave like "beggars" and did not claim poverty or hunger, or
try to make you feel sorry for them, like in many other situations of street and beach
vendors in "third world" countries. On the contrary, - they “showed off” with their
studying, sometimes even brought out their notebooks to prove their genuineness, and
behaved quite ambivalently towards trying to sell their merchandise - not pushing or
begging, which can cause in many cases antagonism, especially when you are lying on
the beach sipping Capirinha (Brazil's "national drink" made form Kasasha, a strong
sugarcane alcoholic drink, lemon and crushed ice) trying to forget the world's miseries
and look at "the bright side of life". But when a jewellery vendor sits next to you and takes
out his student’s notebook and starts reciting the English sentences he had studied the
evening before, you don't feel right to let him go without buying a necklace (that you will
never wear later), which supposedly will contribute towards his further English studies.
BUY NOW – PAY LATER
One of the basic marketing tools of western economy is "credit". Buy now, with money
that you don't actually have on you or that you don't want to spend now, and pay later.
This encourages you to buy more than you originally intended to. The "credit" system is
not that common when it comes to markets or with street vendors, especially not in
environments where the clientele is irregular - fairgrounds, festivals, beaches... In most
beaches known to me (including the one is Salvador) a possibility of "credit" never came
up. If you don't have enough in your pocket - you either buy less or negotiate a lower
price. However, some vendors in Ipanema developed a more "progressive" attitude,
based on a basic psychological marketing rule - If you have something to sell, and a
potential customer shows any degree of interest – don’t let him go without having it, even
if it involves some trust and getting paid later.
It is a known fact that most customers will spend more if they don't have to pay
immediately for each purchase. Also, on a beach environment, when the money is
sometimes hidden in a protected pocket or bag, and change is not always available,
especially when the customer is just coming out of the water or not near his bag – a
“credit” policy can significantly increase sales.
How is this implemented on the beach?
Ipanema beach is divided to vertical "territories", each territory is controlled by a group of
three or four individuals (usually with family connections) who have a hut on the edge of
the territory, far from the water line. From this hut they observe, control, sell and serve
their own customers.
Each section is identified by chairs of the same colour, sun umbrellas of one design
(usually carrying the logo of a specific sponsor/advertiser).
To start with, the moment you arrive to the beach, you are offered a chair and/or a sun
umbrella, which is being placed in the place of your choice on the sand and the “section
owner” makes sure you feel comfortable and settled. Then once in a while they offer you
drinks or food, while keeping a "tab" open. You order and order, and pay your bill when
you leave the beach.
The "nomadic" vendors going up and down the beach have developed mutual trade
relations with the section owners, "the lords of the land", so, as I witnessed in some
cases, if the customer is short of change, or doesn’t have his money handy, the vendor
tells him - "don’t worry, I'll ask Julio (my “section owner”) to add it to your bill. “
The trade relationships between the vendors and beach section owners are beneficial in
both ways. I witnessed a few times how Julio increases his beer sales, by simply
encouraging the grilled cheese vendor to come to "his beach" - the salty cheese goes
down well with chilled beer, and Julio gently follows each cheese portion sold with a
chilled tin of beer offered to the eater. Who can refuse?
THE USE OF MUSIC IN ADVERTISING
The Global Marketing world discovered long ago the attractiveness of the use of music
and sound in advertising. A repetitive, easily recognized melody or song, is one of the
basic instruments of western advertising. Advertising agencies are paying very high
amounts of money for the rights to use music in their commercials, which eventually
(when the campaign is successful) becomes identified with the product.
Music and especially the sound of percussion instruments are an important part of
Brazilian culture, and it is interesting to see (or in fact hear) these implemented in
attracting customers on the beach. Joao, an overweight mulatto is walking up and down
the beach carrying in one hand a tray displaying Shrimps on skewers which he grills in
front of you on a little oven he carries in his other hand. From far away you hear him
singing a repetitive catchy melody with the rhyming stanza: “Eu sou Joao e eu vendo
Camarao“ (“I am Joao, and I sell Shrimps”),
After a couple of hours on the beach, you hear the singing from far way, well before you
see Joao’s distinctive figure, and just the sound of the melody is enough to whet your
appetite. This is exactly what advertising companies are trying to achieve when spending
a lot of money on creating a catchy radio or TV jingle.
Angelo is another good example of implementing music to attract customers and creating
strong product identification. Angelo is selling nuts and sweets in a big box he carries in
one hand. In his other hands he holds a small improvised percussion instrument which he
made form two pieces of wood and a piece of metal hanging on a spring, creating a
distinctive wood percussive sound just by shaking it. The sound is well heard from far
away. Although low in volume and gentle, its frequency penetrates the “wall of sound”
created by the cacophony of beach sounds – waves, music from beach speakers, other
vendors’ cries etc. The same acoustic principal is applied in the distinctive sound of very
small but repetitive percussion instruments such as the Cuban Clave (2 pieces of wood
beaten together in a repetitive rhythm) that are heard and “felt”, even when “drowned” in
the sound of a big brass orchestra.
After a few times Angelo passes you by with his sweets and distinctive sound – he does
not need to call like other vendors to make himself noticed. The distant clicking heard
from far makes you know the nut and sweet man is getting closer.
“THE PINK POUND”
One of the main sections of Ipanema beach is known as a Gay beach, catering to many
Gay tourists and locals. The Gay or shall we call it "Gay friendly" section is easily
identified by two big rainbow flags and the huts of the "section owners" carrying the logos
of "Le Boy", Rio’s main Gay club.
Just like the western economy discovered the buying power of the so-called "Pink Pound"
(Gays being considered to be of relatively high income, with no families or children to
spend it on, spending a lot on fashion, cosmetics, health products etc), the vendors on
Ipanema beach developed sophisticated techniques to attract Gay customers.
Kalvin Klein and the like might have invested millions in attracting gay clientele by using
good-looking male models in provocative situations - but Evora knows the trick just as
well and applies similar techniques. Evora has three sons who are carrying up and down
the beach her “Bahia style” sandwiches. She tells me: " For the gay part I always send
Pedrito, he is the best looking and has nice body, and they like looking at him, talking to
him and buying from him.”
Another "Pink Pound" selling point adapted by Evora is the increased awareness to
health food among Gays: "With Pedrito I send more ‘healthy’ sandwiches. They buy it
more there. In the straight side I am selling more sausages and burgers, and in the gay
part they buy more wholemeal bread and tuna, so Pedrito will call 'wholemeal bread, tuna,
healthy and light -calories sandwiches’ when he is on the gay beach"
I noticed a similar pattern among drink sellers - normally they shout "coca (cola), cerveja
(beer) ", but when approaching the gay section their calls change to: "Guaraviton
(Guarana based energy ' healthy drink'), "coca dayetch" (which took me some time to
understand is “Diet Coke”)
The "Acai” seller (Amazonian fruit considered to be healthy) also tells me: “I sell much
more on the Gay beach - Acai mixed with Guarana and cereals …”
These are just a few examples of well known global “macro marketing” techniques, and
the ways they are being implemented by the vendors on Ipanema beach.
Rio, being the biggest city and financial centre of Brazil, and the main tourist destination in
this vast country, is exposed to western culture and global media, more than other parts of
Brazil, including the third biggest city in Brazil, Salvador, which I used as a point of
comparison in this essay. Therefore, it is not surprising that the vendors on Rio’s beaches
are more “in tune” with "western style" marketing techniques as described above. It is
essential for them to sell, just like it is essential to the global corporate to sell its product to
please the board of directors. A smile can sell another sandwich and can mean another
Real (Brazilian currency) in their pockets. The basic principle is "Smiles Sell" and there
are plenty of wide white-teeth smiles on Ipanema beach.
Hart ends his paper on Ghana by concluding:” ...a ...cross-cultural comparison of urban
economies in the development process must grant a place to the analysis of informal as
well as formal structures. It is time that the language and approach of development
economies took this into account." The vendors in Ipanema beach are a good example of
an increasing informal free enterprise operating in a developing urban economy,
implementing “global” macro-marketing techniques and concepts in the “micro-economy”
of a 2 miles long beach.
Cross, John 1998 Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City. Stanford
University Press, Stanford
Hart, Keith 1973 Informal Income Oppurtunities and Urban Employment in Ghana in “The
Journal of Modern African Studies” Volume 11(1), ed. Kimble David & Helen, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge
Martin, Gary 2000 Employment and unemployment in Mexico in the 1990s in “The Monthly Labour
Review” , Nov. 2000, Vol 123,No. 11, US Department of Labour, Bureau of Labour Statistics,
Rakowski, Cathy 1994 Contrapunto: The Informal Sector Debate in Latin America. SUNY
Sethuraman S.V. 1997 Urban Poverty & The Informal Sector - Critical Assessment of
Current Strategies , Development Policies Department ,
International Labour Office, Geneva / United Nations Development Programme, New