POST A: Advertising Masculinity

In 2012, the Indonesian government introduced a tobacco control regulation. Three years later, Indonesian tobacco consumption grew by almost 800,000 metric tonnes…

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation places Indonesian tobacco consumption in comparison to the rest of the worlds largest consumers.

Advertising is meant to be attention grabbing. It’s meant to showcase innovative ways in which a message can be portrayed and ultimately influence a viewer to become a consumer. These designs and campaigns however are not always used to sell virtuous or ethically responsible products, as embodied by tobacco advertising in Indonesia. It is obvious that the designs incorporated into campaigns such as Surya Pros’ Never Quit, have been thoroughly thought through, and engaged in a rigorous process of iteration to obtain the final outcome, highlighting the fact that all design is not benevolent. Despite the fact that the designers and creative directors behind these enormous tobacco brands may not be smokers themselves, it is undeniable that they are contributing to the detrimental ramifications of tobacco related health issues as a result of their work. “Cigarette advertising visibly saturates Indonesia” (C. Reynolds, 1999), and acts to sway impressionable minds and “using advertising to encourage younger people to smoke”.

It is this culture of unrestrained design that raises questions of the benevolence of design and to what extent Indonesian designers will push the boundaries of ethical and moral responsibilities. Despite the fact that powerful tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) have “known for decades that kreteks are highly carcinogenic” (R.D. Hurt, 2012), government policy embodied in the Roadmap of Tobacco Products Industry intended to increase its tobacco production by 12% between 2007-2012, using advertising as a means to achieve this. In 2012, the Indonesian government adopted a “tobacco control regulation that included some limitations on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”, but rather than subduing tobacco ads, gave rise to a new type of aggressive advertising that was arguably more successful than previously.

Garam advertising pre-2012 (C. Reynolds, 2015).

An advertisement for Gudang Garam: “Kreteknya lelaki” (“The man’s cigarette”)

By banning imagery of cigarettes or tobacco on television, print or digital media, tobacco companies effectively gave tighter briefs to creatives to navigate around these barriers. Rather than depicting personalities enjoying themselves smoking, tobacco companies such as Garam played further into ideas of masculinity and made an explicit link between smoking and being a man; ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’ were many teenage boys views about smoking (N. Ng, 2007). Smoking has effectively been designed as the norm in Javanese and Indonesian culture, and non-smoking something different or an anti-culture. While the notion of psychological advertising is the antonym of benevolence, it opens a new direction for design to explore. Designers are presented with the opportunity to somehow design ‘out’ smoking culture in Indonesia while thinking sustainably and responsibly.

Garam Tobacco uses advertising in 2019 to target aspects of masculinity without depicting cigarettes. (D. Strat)

Alexandra C, 2019, ‘Design Activism in an Indonesian Village’, Massachusetts Institute of Technology DesignIssues: Volume 35, Number 3. 

Astuti. P, Freeman B. (2018). Tobacco company in Indonesia skirts regulation, uses music concerts and social media for marketing, The Conversation, viewed 20 Dec 2019.


Hoffmann, S. (2019). Cigarette consumption estimates for 71 countries from 1970 to 2015, The BMJ, viewed 20Dec. 2019.

Mimi Nichter, S.P., M Danardono, N Ng, Y Prabandari, Mark Nichter 2008, Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, viewed 20 December 2019, <;.

Nawi Ng, L.W., A. Öhman 2006, ‘‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking ‘, Health Education Research, vol. 22, no. 6, viewed 20 December 2019, <>.

Post, T. (2019). Your letters: Tobacco sponsorship of sporting events. The Jakarta Post, viewed 20 Dec. 2019.


Reynolds, C. 1999, ‘Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”’, Tobacco Control 1999, vol. 8, viewed 20 Dec 2019, <>.

Tjandra C, Ensor J, Thomson E, 2014,’Tobacco children: An ethical evaluation of tobacco marketing in Indonesia’, Edinburgh Napier University. 

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