Post A: Designers advocating tobacco activity?

By April Jiang

Design activism is about improving views, places and relationships through innovative and positive change. In response to the collaborations evident with tobacco organisations in Indonesia, this idea of design activism is significantly challenged to a great extent. It is not acceptable for figures, who possess great potential to initiate change, to promote such negative activity especially for upcoming generations.

Designers are intimately involved in the organisation of events such as festivals which attracts a large body of Indonesia’s youth. Wide spread events such as Sound Adrenaline, manifest strong marketing of tobacco brands and imitates a propaganda-like presence. Sound Adrenaline is an annual music festival, held in Indonesia sponsored by one of the most popular tobacco companies of the nation, ‘A Brand,’ and was held in Yogyakarta in 2013. The industry’s heavy attraction towards the youthful market is in response to gaining “replacement smokers”(Myers 2010) for the hundreds of adults that die as a result of tobacco causing diseases. Designers play a huge role in the collaboration of promotion, entertainment, liberation and dense branding, succeeding the tobacco industry’s market. ‘A Brand’ utilises empowerment as a key theme throughout their taglines; “Go ahead” and “write your own story” (Freeman, Assunta & Astuti 2018), as well as “chase your dreams” and “express yourself” to gage positive connotations with their brand.

In the promotion of the event, designers produce outdoor advertising such as decorations, billboards, banners, as well as participatory competitions accessible to all.

Figure 1: Interdependence of tobacco industry and designers, and connection between influencers such as artists and the target audience (youth).

Creativity is a key form of expression that is encouraged through the promotion of the event. As a tool for attracting a wider audience, everyone is given the opportunity to participate in creative challenges such as music, design, art, photography and cinematography. Additional activities and simultaneous exposure of ‘A brand,’ included the opportunity to create customised merchandise and a competition for the package design for their limited-edition cigarettes, which achieved over one million responses (Freeman, Assunta & Astuti 2018). This manifests an interdependent relationship with designers and the industry (shown in figure 1); designers providing effective spaces and art, and the industry providing creative opportunities. The map additionally reveals the connected influence on the target audience as well as the artists who perform at the festival. By engaging these two themes of empowerment and creativity, it draws the attention from the youth-saturated audience and is further marketed through their helpless instincts of social media.

Events like this reveal designers abusing their skills as a way of initiating negative change to the broader community, blinding youth with a positive outlook on tobacco industries. Just as Crosby states, “design is both the problem and the solution, and effects everything”( Crosby 2016), hence designers must work to become ethical influencers. Although economic barriers exist for the funding of such events, and not so much for tobacco companies, a solution for this is to use these creative and successful responses of teenagers to create anti-smoking events that may advocate the opposite of what the tobacco companies advertise. Designers must not accept project for the economics, but rather the ethics of future projects.


Crosby, A. 2016, ‘Designing futures in Indonesia,’ PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, volume 13, issue 2, viewed 20 December 2019,


Freeman, B., Assunta, M., Astuti, P. A. S. 2018, ’ Raising generation ‘A’: a case study of millennial tobacco company marketing in Indonesia,’Tobacco control BMJ journals, volume 27, issue 1, viewed 20 December 2019,


Myers, M. L. 2010, ‘U.S bands must smash tobacco sponsorship,’Huffpost, September, viewed 20 December 2019,


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