JAKARTA/SINGAPORE: Unilever invested in a year-long consumer tracking project to monitor core demographics and identify marketing opportunities during Indonesia's economic downturn in 2015, a senior executive at the company has revealed.

According to Banto Twiseno, Senior Manager of Consumer and Market Insight at Unilever Indonesia, the campaign aimed to decipher the impact of the worsening economy on Indonesian women by tracking changes in spending behaviour, consumer loyalty, and economic sentiment.

(For more on how Unilever used consumer tracking during difficult economic times, read Warc's exclusive report: Marketing in an economic downturn – Unilever's approach in Indonesia.)

"The slowing down of the economy globally, as well as in China, had an impact on Indonesia…it was almost a recipe for disaster," he said at the recent QUAL360 conference in Singapore.

The Indonesian economy in 2015 was facing its lowest growth since the tumultuous "Reformasi" in 1998 and monitoring these changes with consumer tracking allowed Unilever to uncover marketing opportunities, while insulating its brands as much as possible.

A major finding was that the habits of Indonesian mothers appeared to correlate with economic conditions throughout the year.

In April, multiple sources reported that consumers were hesitant to shop. Kantar Worldpanel Indonesia and Aprindo, a retailers' association in Indonesia, also observed that consumers were prioritising basic needs, such as food and utilities ahead of non-essential purchases.

However, despite feeling that they were caught in a "silent crisis" of budget constraints amid rising prices, an important finding was that Indonesian mothers were not willing to settle for less when it came to their children.

And consumers managed their household expenditure across all aspects of the family's needs in an effort to cut costs.

"This is becoming the first priority. Anything related to the children's future –education, health, meals – is something they will not be compromising," Twiseno said.

"We observed and identified that consumers were either using less, or downgrading, or using proxies or alternatives. Sometimes they would exit the categories and not use them anymore," he added.

Another key learning came in the form of putting control firmly back into the consumers' hands, so they could be assured they were doing the right thing even as they spent in more trying economic times.

"It's about appreciating them as smart consumers. At the same time, it's about creating peace of mind for them," said Twiseno.

Data sourced from Warc