Design is a complex system often difficult to define. Design activism in particular gives shape to a cause in a way that’s easy to understand and embrace, acting as a sustained platform for change.(Miles, 2019) However, not all design can resolve issues, but instead unknowingly or purposefully contribute to them. In terms of Indonesia’s smoking epidemic, design is a vital tool effectively used to promote tobacco use, whether this be through the use of public space (billboards, banners outside shop fronts), social media and television campaigns, packaging or sponsorships and endorsements of major events. The tobacco industry has and continues to connect with designers and creative culture makers successfully, with the industry increasing their economic gain through their strategic and appealing advertising schemes targeting the youth; the next generation smokers.
In Indonesia, particularly Yogyakarta the presence of smoking advertisements are everywhere. It is surprising when there is a lack of. In Reynolds ‘Tobacco Control’ she shares “…visiting the country in early 1997, I was appalled by the enormous amount of billboard and point-of-sale advertising, indigenous and multinational, so prolific it almost became a “natural” part of the Indonesian landscape.” (Reynolds, 1997)
Fast forward 22 years later, I share in Reynolds experiences in the sense not much has changed. The lack of advertising control has enabled the tobacco industry to continue to thrive, with it living proof of how impactful design really is. With the rise of a technological era, the exposure of such design is more far-reaching than ever before, from streets to television screens, to the sponsoring of public events, social media and Youtube – media outlets that are more commonly used by Indonesia’s youth.
Gudang Garam’s GG Mild brand Youtube advertisement (2017) clearly advocates the ‘new generation’ as their audience, promoting creativity along side tobacco. Smoking continues to be promoted as a ‘social activity’ or something that is considered ‘cool’, using works by designers as an engaging technique.
In 2016, Global Health Action conducted a survey with high-school students to investigate how youth perceived cigarette advertising. This study revealed that cigarette ads were perceived as encouraging youths to smoke and that smoking status was consistently associated with perception of cigarette ads. (Global Health Action, 2016)
Not only is the imagery a key aspect of design, but so is placement. Banner design in particular is placed on store fronts in close proximity to schools as a subtle yet strategic method to appeal to youth. (Lamb, 2018)
Across Indonesia, more design activism for anti-smoking initiatives is needed. Design is both the problem and the solution, and it effects everything. (Crosby, 2016)
Crosby, A. 2019, ‘Design Activism in an Indonesian Village’, MIT Design Issues, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 50-63, viewed 19 December 2019, < https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/desi_a_00549>.
Medicine Man, How does design affect our lives?, marketing agency, London, viewed 20th December 2019, <https://medicine-man.net/2017/11/07/how-does-design-effect-our-lives/>.
Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Prabandari, Y., Ng, N., Danardono, M. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia,’ Tobacco Control, vol. 18, no. 2, viewed 20th December 2019, < https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/18/2/98 >.
Reynolds, C. 1999, Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”, viewed 20th December 2019, <https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/8/1/85.short>.
Yayi P., Arika, D 2016, US National Library of Medicine, How do Indonesian youth perceive cigarette advertising? A cross-sectional study among Indonesian high school students viewed on 20th Dec 2019,<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5005365/>