Using strategic communications to start difficult conversations

It takes meticulous preparation to start a conversation about a hidden dark history. Understanding the nature and needs of your audience can make it easier.

By Alfian Dwi Kurniawan
September 15, 2023
Every just nation resembles one another; every unjust nation suffers its own injustice. The Indonesian nation has suffered a lot from its past trauma that has never been reconciled until now, especially due to the 1965 and 1998 events. This is what Buried Chapters, a short documentary anthology series produced by Talamedia which can be accessed for free on YouTube, tries to reveal.

At the end of 2022, C4C assisted Talamedia to market Buried Chapters to their target audience: young people aged 15 to 25 years who are not aware of Indonesia’s history, a.k.a. not "history buffs ". Talamedia wants their target audience to not only watch the documentary series, but also talk about the issues brought up by Buried Chapters. The aim is to let young people know that these two events really happened and should not happen again.

This age group did not directly experience the two major events mentioned above. However, there is a "politics of remembering" that the regime continues to maintain to legitimize their power. This means that young Indonesians are shaped to believe the version of history written by the ruling government through history books, films, monuments or museums, and other cultural products.

This propaganda then becomes their default belief from the start (default position). Since young we’ve been spoonfed with various labels and stigmas. Who doesn't know the term communist? (We as Indonesian people have to be anti-communist, right?) Or the Native versus Chinese dichotomy? (Chinese people can't be called native Indonesians, right?).

From the start we knew that our task was to start a difficult conversation anchored in the perspective of historical victims. The question is, how do you get young people to watch and then talk about something that feels like it has nothing to do with them? What's in it for them?

The key lies in understanding their needs and concerns.
Who is the target audience?
In order to make our communication effective, we need to think about how to create an impact on the audience that we want using the resources we have. To know how, we have to understand the characteristics of who we are targeting first.

Based on research, the majority of young Indonesians have conservative views. People with this view usually obey authority, and value order and stability. This is the first layer of the onion we need to peel in discovering their characteristics.

The next layer of the onion has to do with their stance on the issues raised by Buried Chapters. We categorized them into three groups: those who agree or support, those who are neutral or have no opinion, and those who disagree or reject the Buried Chapters issue. This grouping relates to the resources Talamedia has to provide the impact they want.

Trying to reach young people who already agree with the Buried Chapters issue is the same as salting the ocean (read: making noise in an echo chamber). On the other hand, trying to convince young people who reject the viewpoint of historical victims is a challenge that will take time and effort, but the results will not be worth it. They're already firm in their default position, and changing that will require something bigger than Buried Chapters .

So it is clear that we are targeting a group of young people who do not yet have an opinion on this issue. They are empty glasses ready to be poured with water, and Talamedia has the resources to control how much water they want to pour. So, the question is: What kind of conservative young person can learn new lessons after watching and then talking about Buried Chapters ?

We profiled this group of young people and concluded that they:
  1. Be educated and have access to the media
  2. Tends to obey authority and appreciates order
  3. Not a history buff and not familiar with this issue
  4. Not easily attracted to or believed in conspiracy theories
  5. Having no motivation to reject or agree with the message Buried Chapters wants to convey .

At this point we already know where Buried Chapters' target audience stands.

The next step is to approach them.

What's in it for them?
In general, people are more difficult to persuade to take action if they feel they do not find benefit in the action. Effective communication always positions the message as a solution to the recipient's problems or needs. What are the problems and needs of Buried Chapters' target audience ?

Based on the profile of the group of young people above, we imagine that they have just started their lives so they have hope for the future. With the privileges they have, they will try to make the world around them conform to what they expect. At the same time, they are trying to pursue goals according to their passion .

Given their current situation, we developed several narrative approaches that "approach" them. Two of them are:

Justice approach, as they obey authority and value order:

You and I enjoy a civilized, safe and calm atmosphere. And we want justice to be enforced in the form of appropriate punishment, compensation for victims, and treatment that does not show favoritism. But we are always annoyed and disappointed when we hear the word "unscrupulous" every time we hear how members of the police or military can be free from consequences after committing actions for which ordinary people would definitely be punished. They always seem to get away with it and you don't understand how. If you want to know where this incident came from, you have to watch Buried Chapters to understand how they can be above the law.

Filmmaking approach, because some of them are trying to pursue their dreams as filmmakers:
You want to make a documentary for your next project. You're in the process of developing an idea, and you might start to worry that you won't be able to use existing footage or won't be able to shoot an important scene. However, you are still open to various possibilities. Therefore, you can watch Buried Chapters to see creative approaches that can be used, such as using animation to depict things that the camera cannot capture.

One step towards justice
The younger generation should not have to bear the burden of the past that previous generations did, but that is how it is. In turn, the younger generation will lead the Indonesian nation. And in doing so, they must collectively heal the past trauma so that they can lead the Indonesian nation to a more just place in the future. Of course this is a complex, long and non-linear process. However, we can work on it step by step.

Buried Chapters is one of the steps young people can take towards achieving justice. This anthology series has released two documentaries, "HOTLINE 1998" which tells the experience of a call center volunteer who was a victim of sexual violence during the May 1998 riots and "Acung Choosing to Voice" which tells the story of a 65-year-old political prisoner who became an activist. You can watch Buried Chapters for free on YouTube.
Alfian Dwi Kurniawan
Written by
Associate Consultant

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