Gunjan Prasad
Aug 14, 2018

The increasing Islamisation of Indonesia

Various trends in new product releases, TV shows, online search and celebrity behaviour suggest religion is starting to permeate daily life in Indonesia to a greater extent than it has in the past. What does it mean for the market?

A shot from 'Hijab Traveller', a show on Trans TV that is an example of 'softer' religious content permeating all areas of life in Indonesia.
A shot from 'Hijab Traveller', a show on Trans TV that is an example of 'softer' religious content permeating all areas of life in Indonesia.

Ever heard of a halal refrigerator? Or halal hijabs, plastic containers, sanitary towels, cat food and detergent? In the last year, Indonesia has seen the launch of all of the above.

Early this May, just before Ramadan, Sharp Electronics Indonesia introduced a halal refrigerator to the Indonesian white-goods market, baffling both consumers and competitors and prompting a tide of social media chatter about what makes non-edible and digestible products halal.

Whether Indonesian consumers are buying into this proposition or not remains to be seen, but the launch does highlight the extent marketers are willing to go to conform to the ostensibly changing behaviours and beliefs of the Indonesian consumer. While there is no data in the public domain about changes in the intensity of people’s religious beliefs and attitudes, there has been a visible recent increase in outward displays of piety.

As an example, a string of Indonesian celebrities have recently started offering “hijrah” (repentance) for their un-Islamic ways on social media. Instagram has been buzzing with these popular media figures, including 42-year-old soap star Peggy Melati Sukma and 27-year-old actress Kartika Putri (below), posting their intentions to discard their chosen professions – singing, dancing, acting – and promote a more devout Islamic way of life.

There has also been a considerable spike in Islamic content and programming on television. Putting this into context, Ajay Gupte, managing director of Wavemaker Indonesia, says: "Outside of sports, there was only one religion-based programme in the top 25 programmes of 2014. In 2017, there were at least five shows — including Damai Indonesia ('Peaceful Indonesia') on tvOne, Islam itu Indah ('Islam is Beautiful') on Trans TV and Mamah & Aa on Indosiar — which were religious in nature.”

The average rating per show of religious programming has also gone up by 26% year on year in 2018 over 2017, according to Pranay Singh, strategy partner at Wavemaker. Beyond pure piety, there is also an increase in 'softer' religious content such as that displayed in Hijab Traveler on Trans TV, which is helping expand the idea of religion as a complete way of life.

Evidence from online search supports this theory. While 'Islam' has always been a popular search term, other related words, including 'hijab', 'salah' (one of five pillars in the Islamic faith), and 'fasting' – have also seen an increase in search volume. According to Google Trends, Indonesians are now not only searching for Islamic laws but also Islamic pictures for their social media profile photos, names for babies and quotes, suggesting they are increasingly incorporating Islam in their daily lives.

The digital space is now brimming with Muslim-specific start-ups targeting net-savvy consumers looking for solutions with specific religious needs. HalalTrip (holiday planners), Muslimarket (an e-commerce platform), IndVes (a crowdfunding platform), (a 'sodaqoh' or good deeds/charity) and Minder (a dating app for Muslim people, below) are some examples.

“There is a wave of Islamisation sweeping the country and it is not just limited to religion but is fast becoming a part of the day-to-day choices consumers are making about what they eat, what they wear, what they buy, where they travel and how they engage with brands,” says Eka Sugiarto, head of media at Unilever Indonesia and SEA. “Adoption of hijab and halal has been the biggest driver of this trend in Indonesia and our brand marketing decisions are increasingly reflecting these changes.”

'Muslim awareness' in the marketing community has grown significantly since 2014 in Indonesia, as the country has moved to embrace elements from hijab, halal ('what is pure') and riba ('what is just') to Shariah, Islamic law. “There is some amount of market fragmentation and consumer segmentation taking place based on these changes,” added Gupte. “We are often asked by clients to have a consumer segment of the 'Muslim woman', which is something completely new.”

While marketers are sensing a huge opportunity as religion becomes ever-more widely discussed, it comes with some confusion and tension mixed in.

It is complex to target a typical Indonesian millennial woman, for example, who is looking for cultural experiences and influences that will broaden her outlook while holding on to the values and traditions of religion and pious living. Just a few of the range of adjectives being used to describe this new-age ‘Muslim woman’ include: young, smart, lazy, famous, digitally savvy, aware, pious, tolerant, inclusive and religious.

“Brands and agencies that understand this juxtaposition of the new consumer and resolve the tension by offering aspiration without diluting traditional values will succeed," says Gupte.

Wardah could be said to be the first Indonesian brand that has cracked this puzzle. While many believe it was the cosmetics firm's halal proposition that led to it topping the charts, Raghavan Srinivasan, recently retired CEO of Kantar (Insights) Indonesia, believes there is something deeper at play: Wardah has a world-class product that is priced competitively and distributed efficiently to all corners of Indonesia, which means it competes effectively with the global names in the industry, but it has also created a protagonist in its communications that delivers identifiable, aspirational qualities for an average Indonesian woman. “They just hit gold,” said Srinivasan. “No longer was there a fair, blonde, Caucasian woman staring at Indonesian women from the billboards or computer screens... There was someone they could soak into and aspire to be.”

The ‘Wardah Girl', seen in the recent TVC above, is affluent, smart and ambitious. She has become an instant role model for Indonesian women and many communications strategies have sinced launched to piggyback on this trend.

The Wardah Girl also wears a hijab, something that's increasingly taking on greater importance in the age of 'modest fashion' in which consumers are looking for ways to fulfill their 'faith-meets-fun' wardrobe requirements. Hijup, a leading e-commerce platform for Islamic fashion, made the news three years ago when it bagged a second round of seven-figure seed funding to help it achieve its ambition to make Indonesia the centre of Islamic fashion in the world.

“For the past 2-3 years we have been setting up all the data that we possibly have based on the purchasing process. [Using] that, armed with insights we gain from close associations with the community through our events in the mosque or with Indonesian women, we are able to decipher market behaviour. There is a growth of the ‘hijrah’ generation and we are fine-tuning our strategies to address their needs,” said Hanna Faridl, chief community officer at Hijup.

Multinationals have not been far behind in actioning consumer understanding of the ‘Muslim Consumer’ into product and communication. More and more products are targeting halal certification, as it becomes viable in every category, and picturing talent wearing hijabs in advertising.

“Not all the products in our portfolio are created specifically for Muslims at large but there is a lot more inclusiveness in the brands’ behaviour. There is a conscious effort to unstereotype Unilever’s brands to be relevant and consistent with the evolving needs of our consumers,” said Unilever’s Sugiarto.

Events such as Unilever brand Sunsilk's ‘Hijab Hunt’, a nation wide talent show that sees hundreds of Indonesian women vie to be the most engaging personality with the best hijab fashion sense reinforces their intention to support the choices being made by their target audience.

Sunsilk Halal and Hijab Fresh by Unilever are a shampoo and a range of body care products respectively for Hijabi women. “The brands that have been created specially for the Indonesian market need to be rooted in the Muslim values of halal," continues Sugiarto. "Not just for lip service but going all the way for authenticity. We are cautious about how the brand behaves, where it can appear and participate."

Islamisation is not 'a fad' that will go away anytime soon, as Sugiarto puts it. “A lot more people are leading a pure Muslim life and the environment (brands and marketers) is making it easier and more enjoyable for them to do so.”

Next year will be a defining year for Indonesia, as the leadership will decide the direction the country will take going forward. President Jokowi Widodo has just announced that he has chosen Ma’ruf Amin, leader of the nation’s highest Islamic institution – Indonesia Ulema Council – as his running mate for the 2019 election. This after years of battling sectarian politics, to win the hearts of the Muslim voters.

A halal fridge may after all be just a taste of things to come.

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