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Raising generation ‘A’: a case study of millennial tobacco company marketing in Indonesia
  1. Putu Ayu Swandewi Astuti1,2,3,
  2. Mary Assunta2,4,
  3. Becky Freeman2,3
  1. 1 School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Udayana, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
  2. 2 School of Public Health, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3 Preventive Research Collaboration (PRC), Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4 South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), Bangkok, Thailand
  1. Correspondence to Putu Ayu Swandewi Astuti, Preventive Research Collaboration (PRC), Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; past4344{at}


Objective To describe the Sampoerna A [A] brand marketing techniques and practices and how event-based sponsorship leverages company websites and popular social media channels to reach and engage young people.

Method This case study was built from three main data sources. First, HM Sampoerna company reports, corporate websites and other online sources were reviewed. Second, four pairs of observers conducted an observation survey; systematically auditing and documenting tobacco promotion and advertising at the 2016 SoundrenAline concert. Finally, social media data were obtained from an iterative search of hashtags of Instagram posts. The 10 most frequently used hashtags related to the concert were reviewed and documented.

Results A brand marketing includes sponsorship of a music concert series, a limited edition A Mild cigarette package and promotion of virtual events on company websites and social media channels. Instagram boosted promotion with more than 25 000 posts for the two most popular hashtags endorsed during the concerts. Marketing activities targeted young people by focusing on creativity, freedom of expression and audience engagement. The corporate website ‘’ served as both a promotional medium and online community.

Conclusion Internet and social media channels are key to Sampoerna’s marketing strategy in Indonesia. Internet-based marketing run alongside conventional advertising likely increases Indonesian youth exposure to cigarette marketing. This case study also provides evidence that Sampoerna evaded current tobacco advertising regulations. Subnational governments can play a stronger role in restricting tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship by more effectively enforcing current regulation.

  • advertising and promotion
  • low/middle-income country
  • advocacy
  • tobacco industry

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In response to an increasingly regulated advertising environment and the emergence of digital technology, the tobacco industry has adapted and evolved its marketing strategies.1–4 In 2012, the Indonesian Government introduced a partial ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) following the adoption of Government Regulation PP 109/2012.5 Incomplete bans on TAPS enable the tobacco industry to exploit loopholes, circumvent regulations6–8 and shift marketing to less regulated channels such as event sponsorship and internet-based marketing.2 4 9 10

PT HM Sampoerna/Philip Morris International (PMI; hereto referred to as Sampoerna) is one of the largest tobacco companies operating in Indonesia with 35% of the cigarette market share.11 12 The Sampoerna A (A brand family) holds 14.9% of total cigarette market share,11 making A brand one of PMI’s key assets in Indonesia.11 13 In 2016, A Mild, the most popular variant of the A family brand, was the third most valuable brand in Indonesia—across all consumer good sectors, not just tobacco.14

Sampoerna exploits both above and below the line promotional channels.11 15 In 2016, the company spent US$94 million on television advertising alone.14 Despite being required to display a 40% pictorial health warning (PHW) on all tobacco packages,5 the remaining packaging space has been exploited for premium promotion. In August 2016, Sampoerna launched a limited edition A Mild package16 developed through a high-profile design competition held on one of the company’s websites: 17 Sampoerna also sponsors youth-focused events, including the long-standing SoundrenAline concert series,15 despite a government regulation5 banning such activities. Additionally, Sampoerna supports and builds on these event promotions through extensive use of new media, including corporate websites and popular social media channels.15 18 Globally, social media are increasingly used by the tobacco industry to promote its products,4 9 10 19 as these channels offer a cost-effective and innovative way to increase the reach of more traditional live event sponsorship.

As of January 2016, there were 79 million social media users in Indonesia, and with 45% of the population owning smartphones, most social media activity is taking place on mobile devices.20 While tobacco industry marketing activity on Facebook and Twitter has been examined,10 21 22 newer, emerging platforms have not yet been as scrutinised. In the USA, the photo sharing platform, Instagram, is the second most popular social media service following Facebook.23 In Indonesia, Instagram is also highly popular among young people, with seven out of ten 16–35 year olds having an Instagram account.24

While countries with more advanced tobacco control have seen tobacco companies shift primarily to below the line marketing and event sponsorship,2 8 25 this case study will show how a tobacco company manipulates incomplete marketing bans in its favour and how it links both online and offline events to promote a key brand. To date, there has been no study of the combined use of music events, company websites and social media platforms to boost cigarette brand marketing in Indonesia. This study will add to the literature on the mixed use of traditional marketing and new media in a poorly regulated and lower income setting. This case study also aims to describe the marketing communication practices of Sampoerna A brand and how event-based sponsorship leverages company websites and popular social media channels to reach and engage with young people. It will also assess if current tobacco advertising regulations in Indonesia have been negated by tobacco industry use of social media.


Data for this case study4 were obtained from (1) Sampoerna reports and related websites, (2) an observational survey during the SoundrenAline concert and (3) Instagram posts.

We assessed Sampoerna reports, corporate websites15 18 26 and related online sources, including the ‘Go Ahead People’ website, the SoundrenAline concert website, and news and blogs reviewing Sampoerna products and SoundrenAline. Any promotional content and brand image communication related to the A brand family and the concert were extracted to include in building the case study.19 27

The observation survey was conducted by four pairs of trained observers with valid tickets to attend the SoundrenAline concert in Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, Bali. Two weeks prior to the concert, observers documented preconcert outdoor advertisements placed in locations within Denpasar city and Badung districts, the two jurisdictions closest to the concert venue. On the days of concert, 3–4 September 2016, all promotional items and promotional activities were documented using an observation checklist (online supplementary table 1). The checklist contained a detailed range of possible promotions drawn from tobacco marketing research.28 This included: outdoor promotions such as billboards and banners; public entertainment promotions including decorations, logos, use of audiovisual promotions, direct cigarette selling, free cigarette distribution; and endorsement by the performers. Observations were recorded both in writing and through digital photos of all promotional and marketing activities.

Supplementary file 1

For the Instagram data, the 10 most frequently used hashtags related to the concert were reviewed and documented on 15 December 2016 (14 weeks after the concert). These data were collected at a later date in order to assess if there was sustained activity on social media following the event. Hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications to identify messages on a specific topic.29 Use of a hashtag creates an ad hoc group who are engaged in a specified online communication or involved in online or real-life activity.30 Data collection based on hashtags is most appropriate for this case since there was no official Instagram account for the concert.

The 10 hashtags were found through an iterative search process. First, we searched the two hashtags that were endorsed during the concert: (1) #soundrenaline2016 referring to the name and year of the concert and (2) #louderthanever, the title of 2016 concert. Subsequently, several different hashtags containing ‘soundrenaline2016’ were discovered through the search and the results of the four most frequent ones were retrieved. Next, three hashtags referring to a preconcert event SoundsAtion were retrieved. In addition, we retrieved the most frequently used hashtags for the limited edition packaging for A Mild and for the ‘Go Ahead challenge’.


A brand image communication

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the A brand family, in its 2015 annual report, Sampoerna stated the A brand had achieved ‘an unparalleled success in Indonesia, and become [sic] a part of the consciousness of the majority of adult smokers all over the country.’11 Although there are no specific details of the A brand marketing strategy within company reports, brand management positions, including a head of brand management for A Mild, exist within the Sampoerna corporate structure.11 The inclusion of this key marketing role within the business suggests that a marketing and communication strategy for the A brand likely exists. Evidence of this plan can be found in the marketing strategies adopted by Sampoerna.

Creativity and self-expression have been the main image and lifestyle messages used to promote the A brand. ‘Go Ahead’ is one of the brand’s key campaign taglines and is often paired with other aspirational taglines, including: ‘write your own story’, ‘don’t think twice’ and ‘take on challenge’.11 Empowerment is another core A Mild value stated in the 2015 annual report and is articulated through the adoption of taglines that include: ‘Change the ordinary’, ‘Create’, ‘Chase your dream’ and ‘express yourself’.11 A Mild brand followers, including smokers and future smokers, are referred to as ‘Go Ahead people’.

These messages are integrated across different promotional media including both the Sampoerna corporate website and the ‘Go Ahead People’ website, an A Mild brand-specific website.18 The ‘Go Ahead People’ website homepage states that information on the website is only for smokers, those aged 18 years and above and who reside in Indonesia. All page titles and most of the individual post-titles are in English, while the associated page content is mostly in Bahasa Indonesia. It is a highly interactive website which is only accessible after providing appropriate identification and registering. Registrants agree to receive promotions and updates through email or short message service. To obtain full access to the information on the website, registrants are encouraged to update a personal profile, which includes selecting two favourite cigarette brands from a list of Sampoerna brands and disclosing at least one personal social media account. This personal profile data readily becomes a database of customers and likely plays an important part in the marketing strategy plan.

The ‘Go Ahead People’ website homepage shows all the different pages with the site including: Home, Magazine, Gallery, Academy, Projects, Meetups, Marketplace, What’s on A, Nanti juga lo paham i and ‘Go Ahead challenges’.18 These pages indicate a ‘one stop shop’ where a wide range of activities, information and creative opportunities are available for registrants. The website embodies the ‘Go Ahead’ and empowerment brand identity by encouraging people to learn, meet, show, share and sell their own creative works. The website is also referred to as ‘a place for creative people’ and claims to have 32 000 registrations and that a total of 22 000 artworks created by users have circulated within the website. While there are no cigarette images on the website, direct promotion of A Mild cigarettes can be viewed on the ‘What’s on A’ page. Sampoerna has posted highlights of A Mild cigarettes marketing, including a 2017 A Mild commercial with the aforementioned tagline, Nanti juga lo paham  (this ad can be viewed on, and the 2016 A Mild limited edition packaging competition. The website also provides information on topics that are appealing to young people such as music, fashion, photography and other creative arts. There are art tutorial videos, photo galleries and personal testimonials. Similar to popular social media platforms, registrants can interact with others by ‘liking’ and providing comments on posts, which enables Sampoerna to build a community of likeminded users. Updates on Sampoerna-sponsored music events such as SoundrenAline and SoundsAtion are also available. Besides the online interaction, face-to-face meetings with artists, talent and mentors are also promoted on the website and are referred to as ‘Go Ahead Meet’ events.

The branded letter A is visible on every page of the website and a flashing ‘Go Ahead’ tagline appears whenever toggling within and between pages. Advertisements including the tagline Nanti juga lo paham are embedded throughout website. This tagline is also used to promote a weekly ‘selfie’ photo competition with a different theme each week.

‘Go Ahead challenge’ competition and limited edition packaging

Through the website, people are encouraged to participate in projects and challenges referred to as ‘Go Ahead challenges’, which include a range of creative activities such as music creation, lyric writing, creative design, visual arts, photography, cinematography and drawing or painting. Some of the challenges posted on the websites included: ‘mix your media’, ‘do your own tote bag’ and ‘artwarding night shutter hunter’. Winners of the challenges received attractive prizes including: overseas travel, publication of their work, public recognition at the ‘artwarding night’ and exhibition of their designs at a Sampoerna-sponsored event such as the SoundrenAline concert. The challenges are all accompanied with the tagline ‘this is my go ahead’.

One of the 2016 ‘Go Ahead challenges’ was a design competition for a limited edition A Mild cigarette package. According to the ‘Go Ahead People’ website, more than 1 million people responded by casting their votes from the final four selected designs.17 Leonard Theosabrata, a talented and well-known young Indonesian artist, was the packaging design winner. The design includes a red fingerprint with an accompanying tagline appearing inside the pack, ‘Go Ahead, be yourself and be brave!’ (figure 1). The website published a ‘Go Ahead x Leonard Theosabrata’ post that described the meaning of the design and how it fits with the A Mild brand image (figure 1). The design was used on special metal packs launched in August 2016,16 as part of a build-up to the SoundrenAline concert.

Figure 1

Limited edition packaging winner display on website and A Mild limited packaging 2016.

SoundrenAline concert 

The SoundrenAline concert has been held yearly in Indonesia since 2002, except for 2010 (online supplementary table 2), and is claimed to be one of the biggest music events in the country. SoundrenAline 2016, ‘Louder Than Ever’, was held in Bali on 3–4 September 2016. The festival tickets were inexpensive, only 150 000 rupiah (US$14), and the musician line-up featured many famous Indonesian artists and three international bands: The Temper Trap from Australia, Block Party from the UK and Simple Plan from Canada. A publicly accessible website features news updates, event promotions and information on the history of the concerts (online supplementary table 2).15

Supplementary file 2

The trained observers recorded numerous examples of outdoor advertising for the concert such as banners and billboards spotted in the district of Badung and Denpasar city (table 1).

Table 1

Promotional items and activities before and during SoundrenAline 2016 concert

Other forms of marketing observed include reduced ticket prices closer to the event and direct cigarette sales by promo girls and boys at the venue (table 1, figure 2). During the concert, the limited edition A Mild cigarettes were sold alongside other A brand cigarettes with a SoundrenAline match/lighter given as a special bonus with purchase. There were no free cigarettes distributed in the venue, but concertgoers were prohibited from bringing in an open cigarette pack from outside (table 1). As can be seen from the different outdoor promotions, the letter A in the brand font and colour is used consistently across all materials. The font and colour of the letter A and SoundrenAline are all registered trademarks belonging to Sampoerna.31

Figure 2

Conventional preconcert and on the concert promotion (clockwise: billboard, double-sided vertical banners in front of Udayana University and Bali Public Polytechnic Campus, ticket discount, kiosk banners and cigarette girls).

Concert venue decorations portrayed the brand image in different ways, from colour selection, placement of the A and ‘Go Ahead’ slogans, and booths that engaged the audience and endorsed creativity and self-expression messages. There were four stages for different music genres, many creativity booths, photo booths and ‘hang out’ spaces. The observers described the design as ‘attractive, glamorous, colourful, up-to-date/modern, and spectacular.’ The booth and venue designs reflected the different A brand variants. For example, there was a green, air-conditioned aisle for A Menthol and a red aisle for A Mild (figure 3). Purchase of all merchandise and creativity booth fees were transacted by simply scanning the ‘A’ wristband enabled with e-commerce technology (table 1).

Figure 3

Colour of decoration reflecting brand image.

The ‘A’ sign and ‘Go Ahead’ tagline were ubiquitous throughout the concert venue. The tagline, in big block letters, was highly visible (figure 4) and elicited photo opportunities with concertgoers (figure 7). The audience was described as the ‘Go Ahead people’, a direct tie-in with the A Mild branding. Artists endorsed the tagline and expressed appreciation for Sampoerna supporting the music event (table 1). The emcee and artists made several callouts during the concert, such as ‘Hello…Go Ahead people’, ‘Hello Sampoerna’ and ‘sempurna seperti Sampoerna (as perfect as Sampoerna)’ to the applause of the audience (table 1).

Figure 4

‘A’ and Go Ahead on the venue decoration limited A Mild promotion and cigarette display.

Creativity, in line with the A Mild brand image, was also encouraged throughout the concert venue. Concertgoers designed their own merchandise such as T-shirts, bags, pouches and a selfie fan (a handheld fan with a self-portrait printed on it) (figure 5). Self-expression through music and other activities was facilitated through booths and stages where audience members could perform (figure 5).

Figure 5

Some of the creativity and self-expression booths: (a) ‘Roll ‘Em Up’ booth for T-shirt design, (b) ‘patch your way’ booth for tote bag design, (c) express yourself booth with piano games to get a free merchandise, (d) VR karaoke booth with sort of ‘goggles’ to show the song lyrics.

Additionally, some of the ‘Go Ahead challenges’ from the website were recreated in the concert venue such as the tote bag design booth (figure 5B). The winners of the website competitions were displayed either as photo booths or creativity booths (figure 6).

Figure 6

Display of Go Ahead challenge winners at the SoundrenAline concert including Go Ahead x Leo booth—the winner of limited edition A Mild design competition.

Social media

Concertgoers were encouraged to make social media posts with two main hashtags, #Soundrenaline2016 and #louderthanever—the title of the 2016 concert. From the Instagram posts (table 2), the two hashtags were included on over 25 000 posts. Other hashtags related to SoundsAtion and Road to SoundrenAline generated almost 25 000 posts. The limited edition pack hashtag was found on only 86 posts, but the broader hashtag for the ‘Go Ahead challenge’ (#thisismygoahead) resulted in more than 14 000 posts. Together, all 10 hashtags generated more than 65 000 posts. A range of photos and videos were posted on Instagram including artist performances, activity at the creativity booths, individual and group photos, news coverage of the events and the limited edition A Mild cigarette pack (figure 7).

Table 2

List of number of posts on Instagram per hashtag

Figure 7

Example of Instagram posts: (a) decorating a tote bag, (b) photo in front of big Go Ahead tagline, (c) news article showing photo of ‘road to SoundrenAline’ winners from North Sumatera were invited to attend the concert, (d) video of artist performance, (e) limited edition A Mild 2016.


In 2017, PMI launched a new global campaign claiming the company is going ‘smoke-free’. As part of this campaign, PMI is selling a supposedly less harmful, heat-not-burn tobacco product, in some test markets. PMI claims in its vision that, ‘these products will one day replace cigarettes’ and in the future PMI will be known for ‘replacing cigarettes’.32 33 However, as we have shown in this Indonesian case study, PMI is continuing to aggressively market and sell traditional cigarettes. This study provides evidence that PMI has made no such commitment to a smoke-free Indonesia. Indonesia’s growing cigarette market, coupled with weak tobacco control,34 has allowed PMI to employ both traditional marketing strategies and more engaging, interactive promotions on digital platforms.3 4 The internet and social media are an important part of the marketing and communication tools used by tobacco companies.4 10 19

Consumer engagement

A key focus of the marketing techniques reviewed in this case study is the building of relationships between marketers, customers and influential stakeholders.35 The website serves as both promotional media and an online brand community (OBC).36 37 Allowing registrants to post their creative works, vote in competitions, share creative projects, undertake challenges and participate in the online and offline communities are all effective ways to build consumer engagement38 and enhance brand loyalty.37 39 40 Examples of relationships with other stakeholders include the involvement of talented artists as mentors within the website and engaging the popular youth digital marketing agency, Qubicle, during the SoundrenAline event. Sampoerna encourages connections between online activity and attendance at live events. Consumer engagement in an OBC has been shown to increase purchase intention, especially among younger age groups,41 and also increases the likelihood positive postpurchase reviews.42 The involvement of consumers in the creation of the brand identity adds authenticity to the marketing strategy.43 44

Personalised marketing and social big data

Another important marketing practice is developing a targeted communication strategy based on customer data. Sampoerna’s access to registrant’s personal information, including their social media accounts, in exchange for full access to the website, enables more advanced understanding of consumer preferences, values and habits. Monitoring social media provides marketers with unequalled opportunity to understand customer values45 46 and predict future behaviour.46 By analysing social media big data,45 A brand marketers can develop highly personalised and customised communication with consumers.46

Ineffective implementation of regulations to halt cigarette promotions

This case study documents tobacco industry efforts to exploit loopholes and circumvent advertising regulations.6–8 The PP 109/2012 prohibits advertising of tobacco-related sponsored events, including displaying tobacco logos or brand images.5 The promotion of these concerts appears to be a direct violation of the regulation. The local governments failed to take any action against the organisers of the event for violating this regulation. Local governments also have the authority to prohibit the SoundrenAline concert series by rejecting requests for an event permit. Previously, the local government successfully prevented the Intertabac Asia exhibition from being held in Bali in 2014 despite the event organiser having permission from national officials.47 48 However, this cancellation remains a one-off action. Local governments can also consider all concert venues as smoke-free areas (SFA) as provided by the smoke-free bylaws. This can serve as the legal basis to prohibit tobacco-sponsored music events, as the bylaws include the prohibition of tobacco promotion and marketing in all SFAs.

Further, the renaming of the ‘A Mild SoundrenAline’ to SoundrenAline (online supplementary table 2), the inclusion of PHW on the promotional material, age restrictions and not featuring tobacco products directly on marketing materials, including in the website, are several ways Sampoerna has circumvented the weak PP 109/2012 marketing regulation.

Internet and social media

In this case study, we found substantial participation in online activities on the ‘Go Ahead People’ website and through the photo sharing platform, Instagram. The Instagram posts showed an active online ‘buzz’ was created by the events. Unlike the closed ’Go Ahead People' website, Instagram is freely available for public viewing. Social media extend the event promotions from the concert venue to a broad network. This Indonesian case study adds to previous studies that found a high proportion of protobacco images/messages on the internet and social media.4 9 10 49–51

Restriction of tobacco promotion on the internet is included in the PP 109/20125 but no further explanation or practical aspects of implementation are provided. Though posting tobacco product imagery on Instagram is technically a violation of PP 109/2012 article 39, it may not be acted on because there is, as of January 2018, no sanction mechanism in place. Developing an implementation guideline for this article is a necessary step towards regulating tobacco promotions on the internet. Another opportunity is through the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law No 11/2008. The ITE Law prohibits electronic distribution of pornography, gambling, blasphemy, blackmail, hoax and racist issues.52 This law can be revised to include promotion of products that cause health risks such as tobacco and alcohol.

A limitation of this study is that it documents one cigarette company in Indonesia and only presents the number of Instagram posts without analysing the actual content of the posts. Exploring the number of posts was the purpose of this study; however, the content of the posts should be explored in the future to obtain a better understanding of the types of message shared, and who shares and responds posts.


Internet and social media channels are key to Sampoerna’s marketing strategy in Indonesia. The use of internet marketing, in addition to ongoing conventional advertising, increases the likelihood of Indonesian youth being exposed to cigarette marketing. This case study also provides evidence that Sampoerna has violated current tobacco advertising regulations. Local (subnational) governments must step up their role in controlling TAPS by enforcing current regulations more effectively.

What this paper adds

  • This is the first study that explores how social media and the internet have been used systematically to support traditional tobacco marketing in a low-income setting. It provides insight into how the tobacco industry is effectively engaging and grooming their target audience through social media and an online brand community.


The authors thank Ni Made Dian Kurniasari for coordinating the field observation and website search, and the observers (Dewi, Yunis, Dinda, Awidya, Artika, Arni, Rama, Dendi) for their contribution. We also thank the reviewers for their comments on the manuscript.



  • i Nanti juga lo paham is a tagline for A Mild promotion released in 2017. The closest English translation is ‘eventually, you will understand’; ‘lo’ is an urban youth callout meaning you.

  • Twitter @drayuswandew

  • Contributors PASA was involved in design and conception of the study, gathering and analysing the data, and drafting and editing the manuscript. MA was involved in drafting and editing the manuscript, and providing input on the Indonesian setting. BF was involved in the design and conception of the study, and drafting and editing the manuscript. All three authors agreed on the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding PASA received scholarship from Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) for her PhD.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval There is no ethical approval required for the study because this case study retrieved information from Instagram posts and a company website which had been published in the public domain; and the observations of the concerts were conducted after purchasing tickets which provide legal entrance to the venues. All personal identifiers have been removed.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.