POST A: Design activism challenges. A comparison of tobacco advertising between Indonesia and the USA.

The tobacco industry has had great success in Indonesia now being the 2nd largest tobacco market in the world (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2017). Designers play a major role in this by shaping the identity of the tobacco branding through packaging and promotion to mislead consumers away from its negative health effects. Current trends in the market advertise cigarettes as mild or low-tar, for example since 2002 the major brand Gudang Guram in Indonesia has the GG mild brand to cater to changing consumer preferences. This demonstrates some of the strategies designers utilise to keep their consumers loyal to the brand.

The big Indonesian tobacco company Sampoerna hosted a ‘Go Ahead Challenge’ competition which involved designing a limited edition A Mild cigarette package (Astuti, Assunta & Freeman 2018). The winning design was a red fingerprint with the tag “Go Ahead, be yourself and be brave!”. Through their website over a million people voted for the design indicating the large community of active users. These tactics allow the tobacco industry to be heavily rooted in Indonesian youth culture, the economy and politics.

a mild
Figure 1. Sampoerna website displaying the winning design of a competition to design a cigarette packet. The middle image is the designed packet. To the right is the inside of the packet with a description of the design and the tagline.


In the case of tobacco control, Indonesia is one of the few countries that is not WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WFTC) compliant, on the other hand, the USA is WFTC compliant. When the toxicity of tobacco was unclear in the past, many people in the USA were sold by the idea of smoking through revolutionary tobacco companies’ advertisements. The American cigarette brand Marlboro was the company to utilise ‘lifestyle advertising’, a type of advertisement that ties the product to an aspect of life. The tv advertisement depicts Marlboro man, a fictional persona became the archetype of manliness and freedom and it was a highly successful. This kind of powerful lifestyle advertising is still seen today in Indonesian cigarette ads. The difference is that in the USA, nicotine advertisements like Marlboro Man were banned from television and radio in 1970 (White, Oliffe & Bottorff 2012), however in Indonesia advertisements are still allowed to be played on television after prime time.

Designers face the challenge of not only fighting the constructed image of tobacco but also all the stakeholders, such as smokers, the tobacco industry, sellers, buyers, etc. Julier puts forward that design activism is something that begins in social, environmental and political issues and the designer’s role is to ‘intervene funtionally’ in them (Julier 2013). The US national campaign, ‘truth’ is dedicated to empowering youth to become more knowledgeable about big tobacco and helping them quit. They focus on pop culture, community and the environment, through events and utilising social media to make an engaging site for youth to access is something to learn from.


truth 2.png
Figure 2. Screenshot of the ‘truth’ site. #IDRATHERBUY is highlighted.


Astuti, P.A.S., Assunta, M. & Freeman, B. 2018, ‘Raising generation ‘A’: a case study of millennial tobacco company marketing in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 27, no. e1, pp. e49.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2017, The Toll of Tobacco in Indonesia, viewed 30 January 2019, <;.

Julier, G. 2013, ‘From Design Culture to Design Activism’, Design and Culture, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 215-36.

truth Take Action, viewed 30 January 2019, <;.

White, C., Oliffe, J.L. & Bottorff, J.L. 2012, ‘From the Physician to the Marlboro Man’, Men and Masculinities, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 526-47.


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