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Retna Murti Asmoro

Head of Strategy

JWT Indonesia


Respecting Tradition in a Modern World

How brands can grow while staying true to their souls

As much as we’d like to believe that the internet has created a global village, there are deeply rooted local nuances. Global brands, therefore, need to be sensitive and respectful towards local cultures, but also need to be faithful to their brand ideas.

JWT’s Intelligence 2017 report “The New Muslimah: Southeast Asia Focus” shows that many global brands have recognized the rise of more religious consumers who are at the same time embracing modernity. Nike’s launch of Pro Hijab, a head cover to be worn while playing sports, along with Unilever’s Sunsilk Hijab shampoos and conditioners, and Uniqlo's modest fashion line by Hana Tajima, are just a few examples.

But is adapting to local nuances enough? What about the purpose, the true self of the brand?

There’s a global burger restaurant chain that in Indonesia that offers nasi uduk with fried chicken for breakfast. This addition to the menu is undeniably relevant to the local tradition, fits the Indonesian consumer experience, and it might also add some sales. But whether it’s giving consumers the experience that is uniquely owned by the brand is another question.

So, what’s the formula for brands to grow globally but also connect with local culture? There is no definite answer, but the following examples should inspire.


Combantrin: Bringing traditional games back to life

Given the low penetration of worm treatment in Indonesia, Combantrin’s goal as the market leader is to drive category growth.

The thing is, mothers believe their children – who rarely play outside as they spend so much time online – won’t get infected. However, they face a dilemma: they actually want their children to play outside, but are worried about the risk of worm infection.

Combantrin found a way to ease mothers’ tension by creating the “Jam Main Kita” (Our Playtime) movement, encouraging kids to play traditional outdoor games without the worry of worm infection. Around 10,000 parents and children gathered in Monas on March 25, 2018 to play traditional games together at the event and pledged to play outside more frequently.

Jam Main Kita reached its peak when it caught the interest of President Joko Widodo; he invited 200 Indonesian children to play traditional games at the presidential palace two months later. No key opinion leader is more influential than the president himself. Combantrin has shown the brand’s understanding of local tensions, and that Indonesians long to pass on values and traditions to their children in a fast-changing world.

Mylanta: Changing behavior through religious values

Mylanta might be one big antacid brand in the world, but to Indonesians, Promag is their more frequent choice. This has been a continuous challenge for Mylanta, especially during Ramadan, when use of antacids peaks.

While the practical benefit of Mylanta is a healthy tummy, it enables something much bigger: the ability to savor social connections through the joy of food, which naturally links to the Ramadan tradition.

Ramadan is the month of connection, sharing and mindfulness. But sometimes people forget to be mindful when it comes to breaking their fast (Ifthar). Being “lapar mata” (hungry eyed) and the fear of not having enough can lead some people to eat too much, or too quickly. This leads to upset stomachs and food wastage when consumers serve themselves more than they can eat.  In 2016, Jakarta’s Public Sanitation Office revealed that Jakarta’s total waste increased by 10 percent during the first 10 days of Ramadan; most of it was uneaten food. The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2017 reported that Indonesia was the world’s second-biggest producer of food waste.

To encourage sensible eating for both a healthy stomach and a healthy earth, Mylanta launched “Makan Bijak” or “Wise Eating”. Echoing the spirit of Ramadan as the month of sharing and mindfulness, the campaign provided food containers in food courts in malls, so people could avoid wasting food.


The campaign went viral, with more than 15,000 people participating, and 3,000 kg of food waste reduced in a month.

Respecting tradition works in two directions.

These examples provide useful guidance to any brand seeking growth across borders. First, they need to genuinely want to immerse themselves in the local cultural context despite being a big, global brand. But it doesn’t stop there. They need to dig deeper to find ways they can solve human problems and improve people's lives. Lastly, given strong competition from other global brands and emerging local brands, they must not forget their own traditions – a key point of differentiation.


Combantrin and Mylanta both resolved human tensions within the local cultural context, and both remained loyal to their brand purpose.

In attempting to embrace local culture, sometimes a brand can drift away from its true self, losing its uniqueness. Hence respecting tradition goes both ways, not only towards local nuances but also the tradition of the brand itself. Only then can global brands create meaningful difference in people’s lives, creating an experience that is unmistakably theirs and truthful to the soul of the brand.