Thank Jokowi for Making Checkered Shirts Uncool

By Nivell Rayda on 04:08 pm Jul 12, 2012
Category Blogs, Globe Beat

Jakarta governor candidate Joko Widodo, second front left, and Basuki Purnama, front second right, cheer with supporters in Jakarta, on July 11, 2012. (Antara Photo/Prasetyo Utomo).

I am thinking of throwing away my whole collection of checkered shirts in my closet. Checkered shirts, once synonymous with youth and their rebellious stance, have suddenly become a symbol of bureaucracy of political power and part of an ingenious campaign strategy.

All thanks mostly to quick-count results of Wednesday’s Jakarta gubernatorial election, putting Solo Mayor Joko Widodo in first place to advance to a runoff vote this September. Throughout his campaign, Jokowi, as he is affectionately called, wears the same red-and-blue checkered shirt – as do a legion of his supporters. “I have twelve identical shirts,” Jokowi said when he first announced his bid to lead Jakarta in March.

Indeed, he would wear the same shirt everywhere, including a visit to BeritaSatu’s office, the media holding company of the Jakarta Globe. There is not a single picture of him when he is not wearing the shirt. It is almost as if he sleeps and showers in it too. The shirt had become a part of him, part of his trademark and ultimately his brand. Even former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who chairs the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) — one of Jokowi’s political vehicles this election — was intrigued with the humble shirt and ordered one for herself.

What marketers can learn from Jokowi’s move is that he is consistent with his trademark. Checkered shirts, as I have mentioned earlier, are worn by today’s hipsters as well as the maturing Gen-X. Checkered shirts are readily available everywhere at affordable price, making Jokowi closer to his target market and vice versa. The genius of this campaign strategy is to get voters to think “I can trust this guy. He dresses like us. He IS one of us.” It was only natural that his running mate Basuki Tjahja Purnama (Ahok) started wearing an identical shirt as were members of his campaign team.

Compare that with incumbent governor Fauzi Bowo (Foke), who also goes through the runoff vote stage. His trademark is his bushy mustache, a symbol of masculinity, of authority and, in my opinion, of arrogance. He was successful in using his trademark mustache in 2007 when he enjoyed a landslide victory. This year, Foke was like a mule thinking he could getaway using the same trick twice. “Coblos kumisnya” or “Vote for the mustache” his campaign reads in both 2007 and 2012. It was never enough to defeat the fresher, hipper checkered shirt.

Other candidates tried to emulate Jokowi’s strategy: Hidayat Nur Wahid always wears a batik (associated to being formal, old, traditional and conservative) and Faisal Basri, a clean, long sleeved, white shirt (identical to middle class, business professionals and salarymen). The other two Alex Noerdin and Hendardji Soepandji had no trademark at all and both faired badly with the voters as Wednesday’s poll results suggest.

But for ordinary citizens like me, checkered shirts are a thing of the past and we have Jokowi to thank. My generation stopped doing stage dives as soon as they appeared in beer commercials and countless pop videos. I remember feeling embarrassed coming to work one day wearing a checkered shirt. “Aha… Jokowi fan!” one co-worker said pointing to my outfit. Grrrr!!!

For Jokowi however, it is likely that the checkered shirt will stay, at least until the runoff stage is complete. A word of advice to incumbent Foke, who lost by a margin of nearly 10 percent to Jokowi depending on the survey group you trust, an image overhaul might worth considering. Shave off that mustache or stylize it somehow (crooked, combed sideways, let your imagination run wild!). And lose the safari! Get a mohawk and put on some sneakers, with a hoodie jacket perhaps. Foke already got the attitude as exemplified in that middle finger incident.