The people of Viet Nam like many countries throughout Asia have developed an interdependent self-concept vs. the independent self-concept more typical in Western cultures. As a result, it is much harder to set yourself apart from, challenge or put personal preferences before the norms of your group. To do so would cause a loss of face and would likely result in rejection by your peer group.

This is captured in a recent factsheet published by TRAFFIC which gives an example of a typical user of rhino horn in Viet Nam:

Mr. L a 48 year old property developer:

  • He is focused on his social status and is therefore potentially vulnerable to outside influences
  • He puts the good of his peer group above himself.
  • Recommendations from his social/business circles are extremely influential
  • Career, success, financial security, family preservation, social status and peer lifestyle are top priorities for him

Currently, his status in his peer group is increased by using and giving rhino horn. Even if he wanted to not use rhino horn, the research shows he can’t stand up against the group.

wildaid-vietnamWith this in mind the recent campaign by WildAid ‘Ivory Pledge’ is perfect way to drive a change of behaviour. Having members of your peer group or, even better, members of the group you aspire to pledge never to use ivory is a powerful motivator to change your behaviour if you believe that continued acceptance by and status in your peer group is better served by following the lead of a more powerful group of people.

In speaking to the users of genuine rhino horn in Viet Nam they stated they were very interested in and followed international business and political celebrities; the names mentioned included President Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton. When asked if they were interested in other, high status males in Viet Nam they responded ‘No’ or ‘There was no one they could think of’. When asked about women, they responded ‘No’.

So the questions is: Will someone stand up to their current, prestigious group if they can associate with another, more prestigious, group (The World Rhino Custodians) populated by the males they say they follow and are influenced by. With this in mind Breaking The Brand put a concept together for a campaign – The ‘Global Rhino Custodians’.

Primary Influencer Group

Involvement of males from the influencer group mentioned is paramount. If they are not involved in number it is less likely to work.


Secondary Influencer Group

Global ‘Celebrities’ associated with supporting wildlife would also join forces.


We also believe that Business, Political etc Celebrities from Viet Nam and the region should be in involved. Even though no interest was expressed in high status males from Viet Nam or the Asia region the campaign should avoid looking like East vs West as this would likely cause the initiative to fail.

Looking at this idea from a behaviour change perspective, would this approach work? When looking at the Spiral Dynamics model outlined in earlier blog posts, the primary users of rhino horn in Viet Nam are emerging ORANGE. Their perception on the male influencers they follow is that they sit in ORANGE. This means they are highly receptive to perceived status in relation to wealth, success and power.


What is working in our favour for this approach is that some of the key influencers have actually evolved to ORANGE/GREEN, meaning they do care about the environment and/or wildlife conservation. So it is possible to use their status in ORANGE to transfer a GREEN message to an audience that otherwise would not be receptive to any message coming from GREEN.

Some of the influencers mentioned are already helping to raise awareness of the rhino poaching problem and educate a broad public about why it needs to stop. Our recommendation is that they create an additional campaign to speak more directly to the users of rhino horn; a campaign directed JUST at the users. Their personal status means that the users may actually see and hear their personal message about why using rhino horn will not bestow the real status they are seeking.