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Indonesia 2015: Thought Leadership

The youth of today – the power behind your brand tomorrow

       Daniel B. Siswandi
Chief Strategy Officer
J. Walter Thompson

What is youth? Is youth about freedom? Self-expression? A search for identity? There are many definitions of youth; but in Indonesia, youth is power.

With an average age of 29, Indonesia is a nation of millennials. Throughout Indonesia’s history, young people have played an important role in all the nation’s milestones, including Indonesia’s independence back in the 1950s, and the uprising that led to the restoration of democracy in 1998.

As our first president, Sukarno, said, “Seribu orang tua hanya dapat bermimpi, satu orang pemuda dapat mengubah dunia.” A thousand old people can only dream; one young person can change the world.

Young Indonesians are at the heart of the digital media explosion taking place. The TNS Connected Life study found that 99.4 percent of Indonesians aged 16 to 34 use social networks.

In this connected era, young people have the power to play an even greater role in the development of their country than in the past.

In 1928, young Indonesian nationalists made what has become known as the Youth Pledge. They proclaimed three ideals: one motherland, one nation, and one language. Their declaration is marked each year on October 28th, the anniversary of the day it was first made. Now, the technologically empowered youth of Indonesia can make a digital Youth Pledge, announcing their allegiance to the nation through Twitter and Facebook.

In 2010, the passion young people have both for digital communication and for their country came together in a project called Indonesia Optimis. This was an effort to modernize the traditional August 17th Independence Day flag raising that most Indonesians attend during their school years, but never bother going to again. The campaign worked across Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube to spread enthusiasm for a flag-raising ceremony that was streamed online – taking the event to the screens young people held in their hands. In one week, the site was visited by 54,000 people.

In another example of young people wielding their tremendous digital power, a campaign to help a housewife fight a legal battle raised four times the amount of money she needed. The woman at the center of the case was being sued for the equivalent of US$20 million by a hospital over claims she made about her treatment there. The case was dropped, and the US$80 million that was raised has funded a foundation to help people in similarly difficult legal situations.

There is a danger, however, that once marketers realize the power of Indonesia’s youth, authenticity is lost. Some brands have exploited young people and their social media habits to pursue their own agendas, and as a result, young Indonesians have grown cynical about involvement in branded social media projects. This has happened to such an extent that some brands have given payment or gifts in return for social media endorsement. People with a large enough social media following have been able to turn their buzz into a revenue stream as lucrative as having a 9-5 job. But while campaigns built on this basis build ‘likes’ for brands, they deliver little else.

In our experience helping brands create movements online, there are several rules of engagement:

  1. The cause. We needed to stay away from carrot and stick, and instead rely on a strong, motivating cause that rewards ’purpose’. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, defined this as people’s natural desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.
  2. Be organic. The movement needs to behave less like marketing activity and more like organic growth. This requires careful consideration of how the movement will start, the way influencers get involved, and the way the brand makes its entrance.
  3. Encourage participation. The examples above all demonstrate how an important aspect of sustaining a campaign is making it easy for people to get involved and participate on their own terms.
  4. Perhaps the most important of all, be a brand that seeks to build a genuine relationship with the target audience. No number of pseudo movements will ever replace a genuine relationship based on mutual respect and love.