Based on the information Breaking The Brand gathered from interviewing the users of genuine rhino horn in Viet Nam, we know that status and belonging to a high-status peer group are key motivators for rhino horn consumption. This was also the conclusion of work done by TRAFFIC in Viet Nam – see here.

The best way of stemming consumption in these primary user groups involves undermining the role of rhino horn as a medium for communicating prestige, both in general and more specifically within the user’s peer group or the peer group they aspire to be a part of.

higher-status1The primary user of genuine rhino horn – high status male: Analysis of the businessman (high status male) user group in Viet Nam shows the groups focus is the symbolic value of rarity and expense. They perceive that acquiring a rare product is associated with money, power and skill. Similarly, a rhino horn gift is used to demonstrate respect and competence when negotiating deals and initiating new business relationships. Gifts are also used to influences and obtain preferential treatment from those in positions of power or gain advantage so recipient must reciprocate accordingly.

In contrast to Western culture, where self-concept is largely individualistic, in Vietnamese culture self-concept is much more interdependent – group membership conveys status and defines ones identity. Of course membership of groups also coveys’ status in Western society, but, in the main, we have placed the individual above the group in terms of our identity; especially in recent decades. Probably the group in Western culture that most closely matches the Vietnamese user of rhino horn is the sports team, where individual team members don’t stand up to challenge inappropriate behaviour from another team member (binge drinking, aggression, sexual violence etc.) for fear of rejection from their peers.

Knowing this, how can we use the need for belonging to a high-status group to influence the consumption of rhino horn? The drive to achieve higher status is common to all current primary users of rhino horn in Viet Nam, they are extremely aspirational. So they will be open to joining a higher-status group, even if that means having to give up the consumption of rhino horn to be accepted into the new group. People will happily adapt their behaviour to group norms to facilitate belonging if they get something in return that they crave from group membership in the first place, in this case status and identity.

With this in mind, it is possible to design a campaign that will reverse the trend of using rhino horn to indicate belonging to the highest status groups in Vietnamese society. We know from interviews with users that they are influenced by and aspire to the business and political celebrities of the Western sphere – Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton were all directly mentioned in our interviews without needing to prompt. They see these individuals as members of a group with higher status and more influence. Gaining acceptance from them would be a powerful message to their current peer group, but only if the experience is direct and personal. To have the chance to be successful, these messages cannot simply be generic awareness raising or educational in nature, this would be too broad and won’t resonate with the users of genuine rhino horn.

They would need to see these influencers as speaking directly to them about leadership on a global scale and in business and politics. This message would then need to be combined with (subtle) messages about behavioural norms in that higher-status global group: refraining from consuming illicit wildlife products as such consumption is seen as incompatible with acceptance into the high-status group.

What would such a campaign need to look like? A range of platforms are need to talk to the primary user, from mainstream adverts to invitation only, personal networking events. In the ideal case, we would need to bring together a number of these business and political celebrities to deliver a group message and then individual personal messages that speak directly to the current primary user group of rhino horn in Viet Nam. To give the campaign the best chance of success 4 components are needed:

  1. Group Message (required)
    higher-status2Even though we are talking about people in the upper echelons on a global scale (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Barak Obama) a ‘peer group’ image and message of these powerful men would have the most commanding effect.
  2.  Individual Message (required)
    Key Group: People specifically mentioned as influencers by rhino horn users included:higher-status3
  1. Invitation Only, Intimate and Face-To-Face Message – in Viet Nam (required)
    The meeting would be an invitation only to event for businessmen (and some politicians/diplomats) from the same socio-economic class as the users of genuine rhino horn. The event would be hosted by, for example, a Viet Nam based, global business CEO or USA, UK etc Ambassador. They would be invited to meet with 2-3 influencers (e.g. meet Richard Branson, Bill Clinton and Prince William) who are there to ask for their advice and support to tackle the demand for rhino horn in this high status male peer group. It must be stressed that their invitation in no way implies that they are users of rhino horn. They have been invited because they are local leaders and in the same demographics as the primary user group.
  1. International invitation only (ideal but optional)
    Something similar to the summit held in February 2014 in the UK which invited Heads of State, non-governmental organisations and other key figures in the preventing the illegal wildlife trade.
    The difference would be that this would be an invitation to Vietnamese businessmen who are supporting the effort to combat the demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam. This Leadership Summit would need the support of several people from the key and extended influencer group. By inviting the highest-status people that come from the same demographic as the primary user group in Viet Nam to such a summit, we can ensure that the next level of leaders in Vietnamese society will begin to aspire to what they have – even if that involves ceasing the consumption of rhino horn and the giving of rhino horn as gifts.

This is Breaking The Brand’s dream campaign to target the demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam. It would be great to collaborate with other organisations to make this type of campaign a reality in 2015.