Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is heading to the polls in February 2024 to vote for the next president. With three presidential contenders vying for the support of 205 million eligible voters, the election period is nothing short of an intense showdown.
Since Indonesia’s democratic transition in 1998, Southeast Asia’s largest economy has experienced relatively dynamic election seasons every five years, and voting is esteemed as a civic duty. However, Indonesia’s election campaigns are highly competitive and spur the emergence of varied perspectives, with candidates’ agendas and the voting public’s interests reflecting strikingly divergent visions of the country’s future.
Considering the high stakes and the fact that politics will dominate the news cycle, the election season is also fertile ground for brands to assert their presence in conversations around relevant social and political issues.
However, Indonesian law prohibits any person or legal entities, private companies included, from providing funds, goods, or services to support or oppose a candidate or political party in the election campaign without registering as an official campaign donor. That means it’s generally wise to remain neutral, but it doesn’t mean brands must go completely silent. Especially as Indonesians grow more vocal in holding companies accountable for their actions, brands can navigate this complex period with effective communication. Capitalizing on the opportunities of this vast and engaged audience while avoiding pitfalls—like a PR crisis or a punishable offense—requires a strategic and agile approach.
As the official campaign period kicks off on November 28, Vero offers communication strategies to help brands adeptly maneuver through this critical phase.
Scale back campaigns as the election progresses
As a first step, it’s wise for brands to reduce the intensity of their marketing campaigns during the election period. The noise and extensive media coverage of political events can make it challenging for brands to direct attention toward their products and services.
Brands can adopt a more nuanced and cautious approach to reaching out to their target market. This involves maintaining a positive and non-controversial stance, carefully disseminating messages aligned with the prevailing political discourse. It’s also imperative that brands demonstrate a keen awareness of the shifting political climate to manage the heightened sensitivity while ensuring a meaningful and appropriate presence in the public eye.
Encourage people to vote wisely
There are smart ways for brands in Indonesia to capitalize on the election momentum without taking sides or breaking the law. With their influence among their target markets, brands can center their campaigns on encouraging people to vote (and to inform themselves before doing so), to raise their voices for causes they care about, and to take part in shaping the future of the country. Creating voting-centric content is a powerful tool to motivate people to head to the polls.
They can also sponsor debate events featuring all presidential candidates televised nationwide. This provides a platform for voters to gain a deeper understanding of the candidates’ perspectives and policy proposals. On election day, brands can further amplify their presence through impactful social media campaigns, such as asking netizens to post inked finger selfies with captions about their hopes for the country, or giving out rewards to voters, like a token of appreciation for exercising their right, regardless of their choice.
These activities can position brands as active promoters of civic engagement and supporters of democratic values. A brand that champions inclusivity, transparency, and civic duty becomes an integral part of a society that values social consciousness and participatory democracy.
Direct communication on social media
Indonesia is home to 191 million social media users — more than half of the country’s population. With such a large user base, social media platforms have become strategic spaces for engagement, campaigning, and promoting various agendas. These platforms are especially crucial during elections, when offline events and large gatherings may be limited, and Indonesians become more vocal with their views.
Social media enables brands to quickly reach a broad audience and respond to events and trends in real time, but the attention economy is more competitive than ever during election season. To claim a piece of it, brands should focus on creating timely content that immediately captures people’s interest. They can opt for less controversial but meaningful posts, like stories about democracy or a sense of community involvement, to bring forward conversations about the election. But it’s also necessary for brands to be aware of fraud and fake news, which are especially rampant during the election period. An article by Campaign Asia pointed out how fake news created anxiety among brands and society in general during the 2019 presidential elections.
X, formerly Twitter, can be the ideal platform to observe discussions. Usage of the microblogging platform typically surges during pivotal and controversial events, such as elections. People often turn to X for live updates, breaking news, and real-time reactions, creating a dynamic environment that aligns with the immediacy of election-related discourse. Brands can leverage X’s active user base by sharing timely updates, utilizing trending hashtags or topics related to their key messages, and prioritizing constructive interactions.
Be cautious in choosing influencers
Indonesia’s influencer marketing landscape has significantly grown over the years, and brands have found success in promoting their products through strategic partnerships with influential individuals who resonate with their target audience.
However, during elections, partnerships with social media personalities can have a more distinct impact on a brand’s image. Influencers often have their own political inclinations or affiliations, and any association with them may be scrutinized more closely by the audience. When the potential for controversy or backlash is at its peak, it’s important for brands to ensure that the personalities they work with align with their values and standpoints to avoid alienating their target audience.
In 2020, a social media influencer who had publicly praised President Jokowi Widodo’s policies during the 2019 elections was appointed as an independent commissioner of Indonesia’s largest state-owned shipping firm despite lacking relevant experience, sparking a heated debate in the country. Indonesians were upset by his appointment, saying influencers were “being paid a substantial amount of money to do basically nothing,” an article on SCMP reads.
Controversies like this, despite coming out months after the election, can heavily damage brand reputations and consumer trust.
It’s necessary for brands to closely monitor the content produced by influencers to steer clear of any inadvertent political charge or potential communication crisis. Remember, a single hashtag can be all it takes to trigger public uproar.
Effective communication during the election period in Indonesia requires brands to be adaptable, socially conscious, and responsive to the changing media landscape. By employing these strategies, brands can navigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by election seasons, ultimately ensuring a positive and enduring brand image.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diah Andrini Dewi is an Executive Account Director at Vero’s Indonesia office. She has worked with clients such as Kingston, Duolingo, Truecaller, Advance.AI, BSA|Alliance, Accor, Royal Canin, and ASEAN Foundation.