The 2016 Olympic Games are set to open tonight, and after months of speculation about whether Brazil can pull them off, we'll all soon find out. Every American business wants to publicly support Team USA, but for many of us, it will take some ingenuity. Our social media team was surprised, to say the least, when it learned the details of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Brand Usage Guidelines. Among the words that document forbids unauthorized use of: Team USA, Go for the Gold, or any variation on Olympic. God forbid we recreate the Olympic rings with spinning fans or bottle caps--or even wish good luck to anyone on the team. But as ridiculous as these restrictions sound, from a business perspective they are nothing compared to the ones imposed by Brazil on any company that wants to engage in legitimate commerce within its borders.
You'd think if you're in the ceiling-fan business, and the market is a huge country that experiences intense heat and humidity for much of the year, you'd stand a pretty good chance of success. Brazil, unlike some other places, already understands the comfort value of the "ventilador de teto," as the ceiling fan is called there. But try to sell a fan in Rio or Recife, and you'll quickly find yourself priced out of the market by tariffs and taxes. An industrial fan that might sell for one amount in the U.S. ends up costing twice as much by the time it's allowed out of port. The result is the only companies in Brazil that can afford our products are ones with very deep pockets, not to mention an import license, and acquiring one of those is an Olympic-sized hurdle of its own.
We've sold to some of those large, well-heeled corporations. But even if Brazil were overflowing with them, it still wouldn't be an easy market. Try to ship there, and you'll soon learn there are unlimited ways to get the paperwork wrong, and absolutely no consistency to the process. As one of our employees says, "Everything has to be perfect, but they won't tell you what 'perfect' is." It's as if the local DMV informs you you're lacking certain paperwork, you go get it and return, and are then told you need something else. If a form is filled out in blue ink, it has to be in black ink. Use a nonstandard abbreviation in an address, and your shipment will languish in storage and you'll be charged by the day for the space it takes up.
Maybe, like us, you entertain the idea of opening a factory in Brazil to supply that market and put local people to work. Forget about it. It takes years of legal negotiations and conflict with a culture where payments under the table are a way of life. Given the current political and economic turmoil, it's not worth it, because who knows what the country will look like in 10 years. All the regulations may have been put in place to protect local companies and not take away jobs, but the effect is they seem to be strangling any real chance at long-term prosperity.
So for my stifled social media team, I say, Go for the Gold, Team USA. We'll find other, more creative ways to voice our support that don't use any proscribed language. And for myself and other companies, I say, Brazil, it's time to cut the tariffs and the red tape and let the world in, not just during Rio 2016 but all the years to come.