Adrian Peter Tse
May 5, 2016

How Indonesia is finding its creative voice

ON THE GROUND - INDONESIA: A national infatuation with ecommerce, a design-driven mayor and a generation of digitally savvy youth are helping Indonesians build creative hubs that are shaping the country’s future.

Still from Line's update of 'Ada Apa Dengan Cita'
Still from Line's update of 'Ada Apa Dengan Cita'

According to Vishal Mehta, managing director at McCann Indonesia, the creative dialogue in Indonesia is changing for the better. Indonesians are getting out of “collectiveness”, and it’s a transition that has impacted the “mood of the nation”, he said.

“Everything happens in groups here, but slowly Indonesians are wanting to stand out as individuals,” Mehta added. “Brands are talking about ‘going for your dreams’. There’s a positive, ‘can do’ attitude in Indonesia now.”

From telcos to cigarette companies, Mehta has seen brands ride this cultural evolution, but said the biggest challenge for Indonesia is still finding its own creative voice. Despite having a unique and rich culture to draw on, Mehta believes examples of outstanding work that reflects the country have been “few and far between”.

An exception might be Line Indonesia’s 2014 online film ‘Ada Apa Dengan Cita?’, which translates to ‘What’s up with love?’. The film expanded on the original Indonesian film of the same name, made in 2002, and used the same actor and actress.

“The original Ada Apa Dengan Cita is one of the most iconic Indonesian films ever made,” Mehta said. “The film is about a pair of high school lovers who part ways in the end when the boy goes to study abroad. What Line did, smartly, was play with the idea of reconnecting with school friends via Line.”

Speaking more broadly about film and music in Indonesia, Mehta said the industry is not at the level that it needs to be. While some film directors, like Joko Anwar, have attained international acclaim, Mehta said there are few other examples.

“India has Bollywood," he said. "Thailand has a distinct style and the culture shows, but for some reason Indonesia’s voice hasn’t been depicted so far. The mainstream industries are also young and a bit shy of experimentation. There are traditional forms, but they haven’t evolved enough to be noteworthy. And this impacts the work in advertising because advertising is part of the creative ecosystem.”

According to Mehta, few brands truly represent Indonesian stories. Wardah, a local beauty brand that shows modern Indonesian women in a “real way” is one exception.


While it’s difficult to pinpoint the suppression of Indonesia’s expression in the past, it might boil down to education and a government dictatorship under which the "culture of many was led by a few” for many years.

However, when it comes to breaking new ground with creative work in today’s Indonesia, Mehta sees that design and digital are helping the country get ahead.

Design and digital

With no uncertainty, Roy Wisnu, chief creative officer at MullenLowe Group Indonesia, points out that ecommerce is currently the hottest category in Indonesia.

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“Ecommerce is the new ‘telco’, just as ‘telco’ was the new ‘cigarettes’ years before that,” Wisnu said. “There is a sense of euphoria toward e-commerce in Indonesia right now. Everywhere you go, you see ads, apps and even people carrying or wearing paraphernalia related to online shops, on-demand transportation and services.”

He observed that advertising budgets are also increasingly going into digital. For creative work, a focus on digital is also pushing Indonesian agencies to develop and execute using a different process. 

“There’s a lot more trial and error but that’s the exciting part,” Wisnu said. He also said the most innovative brands in Indonesia are those that offer tangible solutions to people.

For example, Go-Jek, a local on-demand motorbike service provides a solution to Indonesia’s well-known traffic problem and is opening up job opportunities and income to “lower-educated groups”.

“They did an excellent job on their branding," Wisnu said. "Go-Jek is starting to become an everyday word. They’ve done well in training their riders in customer service. Indonesians like brands that walk the talk and do it creatively.”

At the same time, a new kind of celebrity is being created exclusively by online platforms.

“Now there are very powerful influencers in every space: food, travel, beauty and so forth. They have huge fan followings,” Mehta said. “They’ve become very important to Indonesia’s future of storytelling. People are really influenced by people and what they have to say.”

Here's a look at some influential key opinion leaders in different fields:

Youth icons on social media:

Design is another area that Mehta said is indicative of Indonesian ingenuity. Architecture, furniture design and fabrics are just a few disciplines that stand out.

“Indonesians are very patient people, and when it comes to craftsmanship and form they truly excel,” Mehta said.

Perhaps no one personifies this trait more than Mochamad Ridwan Kamil, the incumbent mayor of Bandung. Kamil founded the Bandung Creative City Forum, which has helped turn the city into a creative hub. Apart from running the city government, Kamil is also an award-winning architect who has put his expertise into improving the city’s design and reinventing public spaces.

Mochamad Ridwan Kamil

With more creative role models in the public spotlight, Indonesia is in a unique position to evolve. Young generations that have been “brought up on digital” are also eager to work across disciplines and are helping to make a difference to the country’s future in the creative space.

“Right now I would say there is no famous or outstanding advertising creative from Indonesia,” Mehta said. “In terms of advertising veterans, there’s no one that really made it to the international level. But I have real faith in the youngsters coming up, and they will play a big role in the future of Indonesian creativity.”

Within Indonesian agencies as well, collaboration has never been more important. From media specialists to developers to content providers and programmers, through to producers and artists, Wisnu sees agencies and brands working less in silos.

“Creatives are more aware of the technical, mechanical and even financial sides of the process," Wisnu said. "They also have a pulse on what’s happening internationally. On the business side, even those in finance are expected to be more aware of the creative side of the process.”

A less hierarchical process must be put into practice, as the world moves faster than ever, he added.


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