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Indonesia 2015: Thought Leadership

Tensions give rise to changing consumer truths
      Lara-Lee Burn
Head of Firefly Indonesia

It would be easy to imagine that the transformation taking place in the Indonesian consumer landscape is a simple story of progression – from old to new, from developing to developed and, to some extent, from local to global.

Yet to see progress in this way would be to underestimate the complexity of what is going on. For brands in Indonesia, it is essential that when they are building a narrative; they reflect the reality of how people feel about the change that’s taking place around them – and within themselves.

We have found that for many people, the economic opportunities that modern Indonesia offers are exciting, but also have led to a pervading sense that Indonesia is at a precipice. There is nostalgia for old Indonesia, a longing for the familiar, and a fear that tradition is at risk of being lost as new values gain ground.

“Everybody acts with less shame … branded clothes and goods, high tech, everything is like glass and identity seems lost; increasingly you feel like you are no longer Indonesian”, one woman, Diah, said during a recent Firefly research project, reflecting the anxiety that many Indonesians now feel.

Melding of worlds

Indonesians are experiencing a change in how they see themselves and they perceive others to view them, and this is more complex than simply to conclude that individualism is supplanting traditional collectivism.

“Previously, wearing hijab was perceived as only for a very straight and solehah (pious) girl, but nowadays everyone can wear it. Expectations have changed – we can still be sociable and hang out, even though we wear hijab”, said Christina, a student in her late teens.

Consumers want to move with the times, but they do not want to abandon their past.

The tensions driving consumer decision-making were explored in a recent Firefly Millward Brown research project carried out in conversation with Indonesians formally, and informally across Indonesia, using discussion groups, digital conversations and ethnographic diaries. We called this study Project Wayang, after the traditional Javanese shadow puppet shows that tell ancient stories from 2,000 years ago, and that remain popular today.

The findings tell us much about what resonates with consumers as they manage the various cultural pressures in their lives, and underline the importance of brands reflecting those consumer truths if they are to be truly relevant.

Home truths

There are three consumer truths we have identified as being especially important.

1. Uplifted and Uplifting

Indonesians want to feel uplifted and uplifting. This can look like individualism, but is actually about managing the desire for personal success with the desire to support the success of others. The traditional values of gotong royong – providing mutual care within a community – is just as relevant today as ever – as is the sense of togetherness and the desire for cohesion. Consumers want to feel good about focusing on themselves without feeling selfish; a truly Indonesian success story unites personal success with the success of others.

For brands, this means steering clear of the clichéd messages of a conforming collective without moving too far towards the self-serving benefits of a product or service. Bango cooking sauce has managed this well, showing mothers making smart choices that benefit their families. Mothers feel pride in their decisions, and in their ability to pass on their expertise.

2. Social recommendation

Social recommendation is something that links old and new Indonesia. People aspire to have the wisdom traditionally associated with their elders. We see consumers express a real desire to be ‘in the know’ and champion the brands they love. Brand recommendations are highly valued by Indonesian consumers, and have a strong influence on decisions to try and buy new brands.

There is a real call to action for brand owners to explore how successfully brand messages are being understood, internalized, and translated into social recommendation. Brand owners can build relationships through social recommendation and validation beyond above-the-line messaging.

3. Unapologetically Indonesian

There is great pride in Indonesia, its people, and its brands, and many people feel unapologetically Indonesian. As more Indonesians move abroad, they want to feel they are taking the spirit of Indonesia with them, spreading what it means to be Indonesian, rather than leaving it behind. They want to see Indonesian brands and products do well internationally. Makers of traditional clove cigarettes, kretek, are among the brands that celebrate their own success – and are celebrated by consumers as a result. Dji Sam Soe is a great example of where we see this working through the message of Mahakarya (Masterpiece), a message that consumers feel easily speaks for them, and feels as contemporary today as it ever has. 

Just as the performances of Wayang puppeteers evolve as stories are told and retold, so too do the narratives that engage Indonesian consumers.