Gudang Garam and sports endorsement

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Gudang Garam International is an Indonesian cigarette company selling kretek (clove flavoured) cigarettes of the same name. According to Euromonitor International, in 2017 the company had 24.2% of the cigarette market in Indonesia; second only to HM Sampoerna, which is owned by Philip Morris International (PMI) .1


The company owns and actively promotes the digital sports channel Intersport. This was previously dedicated to football but in 2017 it announced that the majority of the content would be focused on motorsports. There are interactive motoring games, reports and videos on the site as well as reports from international and national football matches.
The firm’s brand manager explained that:

“We are keen to find new passion points that our audience can relate with and create immersive experiences for them. Going forward, we have plans to lift the standard of automotive sports in Indonesia, and we will work towards developing and discovering new local talent in this sphere. The platform also resonates with the brand values and personality of Gudang Garam International – appealing to everyday heroes who are risk takers and seeking thrill and excitement in every sphere of life. However, the site is completely brand neutral and offers great entertainment for our fans and followers.”2

Premier League Controversy

In June 2012, The Guardian newspaper reported on the celebrity endorsement of Gudang Garam’s Intersport internet channel by the then Manchester United and England football star Rio Ferdinand.3

Ferdinand wore the Intersport branding in YouTube and billboard ads for the sports channel, but it is not clear whether he knew that the brand was actually a cigarette brand. Indeed, according to The Guardian, Ferdinand is a “fervent anti-smoker”, who was adamant that he “was not advertising tobacco but the sports channel”.

The National Commission for Child Protection in Indonesia urged Manchester United to act immediately to remove the promotion, since Rio Ferdinand is a major role model for children and adolescents in Indonesia and around the world, according to Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of The National Commission for Child Protection in Indonesia.

A spokesperson for Manchester United said:

“The contractual agreement between Rio and Gudang Garam InterSports runs to 31 October 2012, at which time all forms of advertising will cease. Both Manchester United and Rio Ferdinand are sorry for this misunderstanding and will endeavour to ensure that it is not repeated in the future.”

Ferdinand was not the only Premier League star to promote Intersport. Fernando Torres, who has played for Athletico Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan, also appeared in an advert for the company. This was posted on YouTube in 2010 and in June 2013 where his image appeared as a backdrop to the company’s Twitter feed, along with Ferdinand.4
It is unknown whether Torres knew that Intersport is connected to an Indonesian tobacco company.

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  1. Euromonitor International, Country Report, 2017, accessed April 2019
  2. Lynchy, Phibious Indonesia wins digital duties for Gudang Garam International and launches, Campaign Brief Asia, 10 April 2017, accessed April 2019
  3. J. Doward, T. Rogers, Rio Ferdinand criticised over advert linked to Asian tobacco firm, The Guardian, 16 June 2012, accessed April 2019
  4. YouTube, InterSport’s Video, posted 18 May 2010, accessed June 2013