Monday, August 31, 2009

Smoking Merdeka Celebrations

Started my Merdeka weekend on a bus to Singapore then a ferry to Indonesia's Batam island for some fun in the sun. Is it me or are the cigarette advertisements in Indonesia getting out of control?

I have to admit I'd read about and heard about how criminal the cigarette marketing landscape was in Indonesia but you never really fully take it in until you actually see some of it because people tend to exaggerate. But no, there I was on a shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to the resort and I saw the first of a series of outdoor ads pass by.

I couldn't get a decent shot from camera as the bus sped along but here's what I can describe to you from memory of one of the more shocking executions:

Two young boys (I'll be kind and say they looked like 14 year olds but that's debatable) are in a competitive game of tug of war against an unknown team (the other end of the rope disappears into the bottom left corner of the billboard). The sweat and strain on the boys faces make them out to look like they could be winning while the slight hint of muscles on their arms show that the two are not your average skinny 14 year old weaklings. Up above their heads is, of course, the product shot.

Couldn't decipher the Bahasa Indonesia copy but the cigarette maker is Sampoerna and judging by the light blue packaging of the pack it must be for a lite brand suitable (??) for the younger demographic but being positioned as cool and macho enough so you don't think its for women.

Where did I see the giant billboard? As we passed a nearby school and headed into a small road where makeshift convenience store huts littered either side of the road - and where the cigarette brand amongst others can also be found.

About 6 or maybe even 9 months ago I read a great article from BusinessWeek which reported about Philip Morris International's race to win market share in developing markets around the world. That article cited some interesting figures like:

  • The company bought local kretek maker PT HM Sampoerna for $5.2 billion in 2005, which has since helped it grow from less than 10% of the cigarette market to nearly 30%.
  • In 2007, PMI had $2.7 billion of sales in Indonesia and spent $220 million on marketing and related costs.
  • Almost a third of the population is under 15, and nearly 50 million people smoke.
  • According to a recent study funded by the Bloomberg-Gates initiative, smoking rates are rising fastest among the young, with rates among Indonesian males age 15 to 19 up 139% between 1995 and 2004. Data tracker Euromonitor International predicts 10% more Indonesians will take up smoking by 2012.

And although Malaysia is certainly more relaxed about smoking laws than Singapore, there are more marketing restrictions here in place when compared to Indonesia. If I am not mistaken, Dunhill hasn't been allowed to sponsor football tournaments for a while now.

As for me, I'll admit that I am no saint (everybody hates being preached to anyways) and that I used to smoke regularly and am still prone to occasional drags when the mood sets in ( I still find pleasure in having a smoke on a rainy day with a teh tarik in hand).

This latest anti-smoking ad from MOH takes a pretty hard line and it's hard to watch. It did leave an impression on me but I am still not sure whether the gruesome facts work on the majority of smokers. The spot was created by Spencer Azizul.


Joy said...

Whilst the execution is great, and well done, the question that goes begging is would such strong emotional shocks lead the youth smokers to quit?
The graphics on the pack hasn't yet deterred the smoking numbers to come down, previous campaigns hasn't mobilised enough social momentum to reduce smoking, so would this 'soft' route do the job?
Possibly, this is why Singapore adopted stringent civic measures regarding smoking.

Anonymous said...

Yes I do agree with Joy's comment. Though it is an emotionaly executed spot, It has yet to stop me from smoking. Dont mean to be rude but I dont think the majority of smokers care because we dont see that happening around us or our friends. Still it is a nice TVC

Anonymous said...

This is a thought provoking introduction to the tobacco industry in Indonesia.

I agree with the Joy, the TVC nailed it and the agency did a good job.

But I can't help thinking that it will at best, become a discussion topic over cigarettes and teh tarik in the coffee shops of Malaysia while the campaign runs and at worst, remind everyone of what they already know, smoking kills.

Every smoker has a story of the relative or friend who smoked two packs a day and lived to be a hundred. They convince themselves it won't happen to them.

It's a well executed ad but it won't make a difference to the amount of smokers in Malaysia.

Marcus said...

Thanks for the comments Joy and brandconsultantasia (and Anonymous too). I think it's true that shocking images alone aren't enough to make the majority of smokers quit and yes I too have heard the story of the relative who smoked two packs a day and lived to be 100. But I've also heard the story of the relative who smoked two packs a day for 100 years and quit cold turkey just like that.

The point is, heavy smokers will only quit if they want to not because they should do. And ads alone won't make them quit.

Joy said...

Possibly what would have helped is a more segmented target group approach. That could have had communication based on psychological issues of why the smoker finds it hard to quit. Probably would have been more interesting and some amount of interactiveness (with the communication) would have possibly brought in some smokers to quit and thereby be effective.
In its present form, its a shocker. View it, feel a pang of guilt, forget it the next moment and light up.

Anonymous said...

As a smoker, you are well aware of the risk that smoking involves.
The graphics on the packaging is your warning!

The question that arises is, why should I/we feel sorry, for someone who took a gamble on their life?

Subconsciously, most smokers will take the same point of view. Because they know the risk.

This ad is not for stopping smokers, but for the viewer to feel pity and why should I/we feel pity for someone who’s taken a gamble?

If the proposition was focus on the lives of dependants, after death then I will have an emotional attachment, being left to cope with life without a supporting partner is daunting.

But does the smoker see it in that perspective? Big ask!

Marcus said...

I think you're touched on something crucial there Joy. Generally speaking I think there are two types of smokers - the ones who are chemically addicted and the ones who are habitually addicted. Both groups need communications skewed to their own needs and not a one size fits all approach.

Marcus said...

@Anonymous. I don't think the ad is supposed to make you feel pity for the smoker (although you could see it that way). I agree, not many people will feel any pity for the smoker especially given all the second hand smoke they have had to put up with without a choice. I think the TVC is trying to get smokers to recognised that they aren't the only ones who suffer if you get really sick from smoking.

adnan said...

Agree with Joy, it a great execution and a great start. But we have to understand that nicotine is an addiction adn it takes time for a loyal smoker to give up. that is why this campaign needs to be followed up with grassroot level activation to weed out the actual problem.
This campaign has legs and would definitely recommend a followup TVC (and activation) with emphasis on action to help smokers quit smoking.

Anonymous said...

I've written about this in my blog and you can also vote on whether the campaign will work.
The article is a work in progress but I would be interested in your thoughts. Please have a look at

if you have time.
Cheers, now where's my lighter?