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Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”
  1. CATHERINE REYNOLDS
  1. University of New South Wales, Australia; c.reynolds@unsw.edu.au

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Introduction: the growing market

Tobacco companies have enormous political and financial “clout” in Indonesia, being the government’s largest source of revenue after oil, gas, and timber,1 and the nation’s second largest employer after the government.2 As in all developing countries, Indonesia’s 200-million-plus population is skewed in favour of younger age groups. The local industry is fiercely competitive, with each company struggling to attract a greater proportion of Indonesia’s growing market. As a recent annual report from PT Gudang Garam—Indonesia’s largest tobacco company—eagerly noted, “Over 45% of Indonesians are under the age of 20”.3 Like their Western multinational counterparts, Indonesian tobacco companies are, without compunction, using advertising to encourage younger people to smoke. Unlike their Western counterparts, however, Indonesian tobacco companies are still operating in a largely unfettered, unrestricted regulatory environment. In Indonesia, not even token laws prohibit the sale of cigarettes to children, and cigarettes are commonly sold by the stick.4

Advertising and the smoking culture

Ethnic-Chinese Indonesian companies control approximately 85% of the market for cigarettes (see Industry Watch pages 89–91). This results in an enormous amount of indigenous advertising. Cigarette advertising visibly saturates Indonesia. Visiting the country in early 1997, I was appalled by the enormous amount of billboard and point-of-sale advertising,5 indigenous and multinational, so prolific it almost became a “natural” part of the Indonesian landscape—figure 1, for example, shows cigarette bunting on a mosque. This is extraordinary considering the importance of Islam in Indonesia and the implications of its commodification. Tobacco has a long history in Indonesia and is rich with cultural symbolism and associations that existed before the advent of advertising.6 The degree and type of advertising in Indonesia is significant because indigenous Indonesian cigarette advertisements appeal to, and reflect, a fascinating collage of specifically Indonesian cultural values and desires. Indigenous advertising exploits and manipulates the traditional …

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