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Indonesia 2015: Brand Building

When opposites attract – creating complex and alluring brand personalities
      Kris Constantoulas

Head of Strategy



Tension is defined as a palpable energy created by opposite forces, and when it exists, it often makes things much more interesting, even irresistible. Great characters and fascinating celebrities often embody great tension. Marilyn Monroe combined innocence with sex appeal, for instance, while Batman embraced the duality of darkness and light. Culturally, we’re captivated by these personalities.

At Y&R we call the appeal of tension ‘Tensity’ (Tension + Irresistibility). Esentially, tensity is the narrative arc that brands need to become effective storytellers. Land Rover is a great example. Its image is rugged and hard-working, yet it is also luxurious, giving it an alluring duality. But for most brands, such depth of character is counterintuitive.

Convential marketing theory encourages us to lock brands into clever positioning statements, with single-minded propositions based on the one thing we need people to know that makes us different. At best, brands usually champion one or two attributes and, in overlooking the others, miss out on a chance to humanize themselves and captivate consumers with a more complex story.

When we look to the brandscape in Indonesia, it begs the question: is the pursuit of simplicity in messaging leading brands away from opportunities to be more human, to explore their own tensity?

Tensity helps make brands appealing to consumers around the world, but it has particular resonance in Indonesia, where managing and embracing contradictions is part of everyday life. There is no bigger underlying tension in Indonesia than the cultural divide between tradition and modernity, and consumers are trying to balance the two.

Shaking up the market

Across Indonesia we are witnessing the emergence of a pioneering generation of brands and individuals who are resisting the loss of their cultural identity by reinterpreting, reinvigorating and reclaiming both the modern and the traditional. They are uniting digital and analogue, local and global, in an effort not just to preserve their culture but to create one that can hold its own on the world stage.

  • Pasar Santa, a traditional market in Jakarta, has transformed itself, and with the help of a group of young entrepreneurs has turned an ageing market into the hippest place in town. The first floor of the market still remains as it has for over a decade, while the second floor has been redesigned to look more contemporary, artsy and trendy, while retaining its traditional market spirit.
  • International brands can draw on Indonesian tradition, too. When Google launched its Chrome web browser in Asia with the promise “Chrome is not your traditional browser”, it could have focused just on speed and security. Instead, it united old and new. The company demonstrated Chrome's capabilities through the retelling of a traditional story: the epic tale of Ramayana.
  • In the most modern of city malls, young shoppers are wearing clothing emblazoned with the slogan “Damn I Love Indonesia”. The business behind this range is working to promote cultural preservation through design and fashion, creating a medium through which young Indonesians can learn more about their culture and traditions, in a way they can relate to. Their tagline, “Patriotism Never Looked This Good”, encapsulates their mission.
  • The Jogja Hip Hop Foundation, a prominent band, is an intriguing fusion of Western youth culture and Indonesian history. Inspired by Javanese poetry and traditional ‘gamelan’ orchestra sounds, they are creating a fresh fusion of old and new Indonesia, mixing ancient rhythms and sensibilities with modern hip hop beats.
  • The traditional batik fabric dyeing process, a source of immense national pride with a heritage dating back to the 6th century, is being given a modern makeover. Nancy Margried of Batik Fractal uses computer software to turn mathematical formulae into batik-style designs, which are applied to clothing, furniture and even Daihatsu cars, marrying art and science, tradition and modernity.

While tradition and innovation don’t immediately sound like the easiest of bedfellows, this powerful set of examples demonstrates that embracing the inherent cultural tensions that permeate present-day Indonesia can prove to be powerful and captivating.

Tradition and modernity are but one example of the many tensions that exist in Indonesia. Brands exporing their tensity should consider their strengths – and their vulnerabilities. Understand what people love about your brand, and what they don’t. Look for qualities that go against expectations of the category. Don’t be afraid of a bit of contradiction. Find your brand’s tensity, then run with it.