If you had told me 8 years ago I would leave my native Scotland, marry an Indonesian lady and end up as Creative Director with a branding consultancy here in Jakarta, via stints in both Riga and Abu Dhabi, I would have thought you either mad or drunk….or both!! But strange as it seems, here I am one year on and relatively none the worse for my journey.
One benefit of working abroad apart from the obvious sight-seeing, is the tremendous everyday perspective you absorb. Working in a foreign land gives you a real insight into the culture and immerses you in real day to day life, far removed from the glossy travel brochures. I truly believe everyone should spend time experiencing an ‘alien’ culture. The second you start to see life through other eyes is the second you become more appreciative of what you have and more open and tolerant of others’ views. Im sure it would cure most of the world’s troubles if we all swapped places for a time.
Although Jakarta rubs shoulders with the consumer giants Singapore & Hong Kong, the art and science of branding is still in its infancy here. The tried and trusted rules of the west don’t fully apply here and what there is is still undefined. East mixes with west in a soup of the traditional and modern that spills over to business method and etiquette. Yet, there is change, a progression that combines all of these traits .
The similarities to the Middle East are all too familiar to me. I still remember the sinking feeling I had six years ago staring out from the window of my taxi on the way from Abu Dhabi airport to my hotel. Fighting back the tears, I almost forced the taxi driver to turn around and take me back to the terminal. Had I made a big mistake? Surely the rows of gaudy, badly designed signs and communication messaging was just a joke…the driver had went the wrong way and all the nice intelligent imaging would be just around the next corner….wouldn’t it? It wasn’t….and I spent the next few months walking around Abu Dhabi wearing a bag over my head. Occasionally an ‘oasis’ would appear in the shape of a Nokia or Sony Erickson ad….but they were few and far between and I was left wondering if Abu Dhabi truly was a desert. Thankfully my dispair was short lived. As time went on, I started seeing more little flowers in the desert. Advertising was being born…kicking and clawing its way out of the sand. Thankfully now it’s a totally different story. Abu Dhabi has not only recognized & understood, but embraced a real intelligent design culture. It has become the envy of the Middle East, leading the way forward as a world force. Such notable international companies as McCann Erickson, TBWA and Y&R as well as home grown talent all have a sizable presence in Abu Dhabi and they continue to grow gathering prestigious awards along the way.
Jakarta for me has the same potential. In the short time I have been here, I have personally witnessed a marked improvement in communication methods and styles that will eventually evolve into a global but uniquely Asian perspective. There is a growing understanding, respect and realization of the need for real, intelligent, cost effective communication strategies. One by one the major companies are changing, employing a more logical approach to marketing their products, understanding the need for proper, considered, intelligent branding solutions.
Combining international methods with local sensibilities Indonesia is forming its own work ethic and behaviour. Rather than being left behind by it’s big brothers, Jakarta has finally woken up and is taking it’s rightful place as a major player in the fast growing highly competitive Asian market place.
By Steve MacDonald
Creative Director, Bedrock Asia