Each cigarette is rolled in black paper. They are sold in flat, skinny packs. The package bears an embossed Djarum gramaphone stylus logo, and a stylized red “A” in the world “Black”. Blacks are a medium potency cigarette, comparable with “Medium” flavor cigarettes of many other common brands like Marlboro, though their tastes are dissimilar, attributable to the Asian “Srintil” versus American tobacco and the addition of cloves.
By weight, cloves make up about 40% of the cigarette, the remaining 60% being tobacco. The filter of Blacks are coated in a spiced “sauce”, flavored with spices native to the region; mainly the taste is of clove, cardamom, and cinnamon; the “sauce” is also rather sweet. Blacks are packed much tighter than most American brands of cigarettes, and tend to be hard to draw from for the first few drags.
They also have a tendency to go out if not drawn from regularly, an effect that is exaggerated if the user packs the cigarettes prior to use. An additional effect of tight packing is the propensity for Blacks to burn 1/4-1/3 longer than more common brands, though this is of course dependant on the individual smoker as well.
Smoke a Djarum brand clove cigarette and the first thing you notice upon removing it from your lips is the lingering, sweet taste of the exotic spices lacing the tobacco. Long adored by college students and bohemian-types, Djarum cigarettes have experienced a surge in popularity in the US since the 1990s, especially among younger Americans. The smoke offers a distinctive, sophisticated taste, unlike regular cigarettes such as Marlboros or Camels, which can often taste burly and rough-hewn.
Each brand of Djarum plays on the consumer’s desire to smoke something truly distinct. For instance, the Djarum Splash carton features an orange, sculpted surfer and is described on the brand’s website as “created for those with active and sporty lifestyles.” The Bali Hai carton features an underwater scene and is described by the website as “created for those who love nature and adventure.” Key words on the packaging and website are “unique,” “exotic,” “distinguished” and “evocative.”
What’s remarkable about Djarum’s branding success is that it does not derive from pegging its cigarettes as “Indonesian” —at least not at first. The cartons acknowledge the country of origin but do not stress it. This may enhance the “exotic” and “unique” contours of the Djarum brand by introducing a clever bit of mystery into the minds of consumers. To find out more about Djarum cigarettes, you have to want to search out the story of their origin. Some smokers, however, might simply agree with Djarum that the mystique of cloves is parts of their attraction and leave it at that.
What a curious customer would learn is that Djarum is one of more than 500 clove brands that exists in Indonesia, where for over 100 years they have been known as “kreteks” and where their production is inexorably linked to the local economy, culture and politics.
More than 10 million Indonesians are directly or indirectly employed in the tobacco industry. It’s also the largest source of tax revenue for the Indonesian government, after oil and gas, making tobacco producers critical players in the political system. Yet kreteks could never have survived without the fierce loyalty of Indonesians: an estimated 140 million smokers consumed 204 billion cigarettes in 2002, making it the fifth-largest tobacco market in the world.
“Kretek is very much a national symbol as well as a source of pride for Indonesians,” says Mark Hanusz, the author of Kretek: The Culture and Heritage of Indonesia’s Clove Cigarettes. Djarum itself is incredibly popular in Indonesia, and according to Hanusz, “far and away the most aggressive advertiser… in both urban and rural areas.”