As Breaking The Brand’s supporters know, our focus is demand reduction for rhino horn. This focus remains, but as a result of the recent elephant census we decided to demonstrate the type of campaign we could create to target just one group of ivory consumers.

Ivory Buyers in China

On page 26 of Breaking The Brand’s second annual report, published in April 2015, I mentioned reading an article in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur magazine which stated, “Nouveau riche around the world are realising that opulent displays of wealth doesn’t necessarily bestow class or taste.” The solution? Etiquette classes with royal protocol expert William Hanson who is teaching wealthy Chinese women everything from ‘pastry skills’ to ‘how to be the perfect host’.

This provides insight in to the level of ‘status anxiety’ and a fear of being rejected by the people you aspire to and, as a result, could be used in creating demand reduction campaigns to tackle buyers of ivory and rhino horn in China. There have been articles throughout 2015 and 2016 about this topic including: and  These examples that provide an insight in to how to tackle the Chinese buyers of ivory and rhino horn.

Same old, same old

So when we have this and plenty of other research and evidence on how to create genuine demand reduction campaigns, why do the large conservation agencies continue to regurgitate the same old campaign strategies that haven’t worked to-date?

Cross Arms for Elephants 

Link Fingers for Elephants 

Tie Knots for Elephants

I am not saying that all of these campaigns have represented themselves as demand reduction campaigns. But while there is nothing being spent on demand reduction for ivory (let me say that again, from BTB’s definition of what constitutes a demand reduction campaign, we would say that there are no funds going towards a genuine ivory demand reduction campaign), this is a critical issue.

Doesn’t it make more sense to put the big money into genuine demand reduction, to create behaviour change in the actual users? Once we have broken the demand, then the money could be diverted in to awareness raising and education campaigns to ensure that this new lack of interest is sustainable and future generations won’t rekindle the desire for ivory, rhino horn etc.

Will Large Conservation Move Beyond Theory?

I am confused that large conservation groups are starting to publish material on how to create demand reduction campaigns, yet they aren’t applying their research to their own campaigns.

This is a perfect example: In 2012 TRAFFIC/WWF hosted a workshop to look at demand reduction for tigers. You can also see the slides at:  The workshop said some of the right things. They missed out the last step as they only got to segmentation by use of tiger ‘products’ and didn’t look at customer segmentation.  So given the key user group want rugs; and tiger bone wine has been invented by sellers to make use of the leftovers, these are the two segments that need further investigation. You could research: who drinks tiger bone wine, where do they drink it (home, restaurant, bar?), who do they drink it with (family, friends, business associates?), what are their motivations for drinking it (health, prestige?) etc. and the same analysis for people who buy skins.

So why after doing all this work, do large conservation produce the same types of adverts they have done for decades?! These adverts do not resonate with the users, but the conservation sector and donors like them; who are the adverts being produced for? As one anti-smoking campaigner told me, “the tough, confronting campaigns do the grunt work of stopping smoking, the positive/nice to look at campaigns keep the donors happy.” 

A similar workshop happened in Hong Kong early this year; the outcomes of the workshop can be found at: I hope this will lead to different campaigns, but I am not so sure because the WWF’s/TRAFFIC’s ‘link fingers to pledge support for elephants’ campaign was launched after this workshop. So another question is: When will large conservation practice what they have started to preach?


In addition to the elephant census, my other reason for writing this blog now is the upcoming CoP17. Demand reduction submissions have been put to this meeting. But here is just one of the submissions, from the USA, that highlights the lack of understanding of what demand reduction is:

Take a look at points 16 and 17:

  • Demand reduction strategies are most effective when they take an objective, evidence-based approach, based upon the latest available research. Research should be conducted to provide an objective and scientific basis for identifying and prioritizing target consumer groups, products and drivers of demand and to provide data for designing and developing interventions.
  • As called for in the UNGA resolution, demand-reduction campaigns should be well-targeted, species specific and country-specific, as demand for the same species even in countries with similar cultural backgrounds can be different. Demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn is a good example; speculation can be a key driver in one country, but not necessarily in a neighboring country. Campaigns should prioritize and target those consumer groups that have the most significant influence on illegal trade

Then go back to point 12

  • The United States Embassy in Viet Nam, in partnership with the Government of Viet Nam, the Government of South Africa, and civil society, launched Operation Game Change, a demand reduction campaign that included a series of public outreach events focused especially on reducing consumption of rhino horn.

Operation Game Change is NOT a demand reduction campaign by Breaking The Brands criteria, but it is NOT a demand reduction campaign based on their own criteria from point 16 and 17. Here is a link to Operation Game Change:

You can see from the images, this is not a demand reduction campaign. It targets young people and can be more classified as awareness-raising or education.

The Consequences of Not Taking Demand Reduction Seriously

There are many consequences for not taking demand reduction seriously:

  1. Loosing animals to poaching unnecessarily.
  2. Confusing the public that the right strategies are being used, and demand side donations are being spent in a targeted way to change consumer behaviour: and
  3. From a rhino perspective providing ammunition for the pro-trade lobby that demand reduction doesn’t work: As I stated in this January 2015 blog – To be effective, a demand reduction campaign needs to create an immediate change in behaviour in the current groups of people purchasing and using genuine rhino horn. In recent months we have seen projects targeting primary and secondary school children in Asia being called demand reduction campaigns. They may, through education, ensure that these children don’t become the next generation of users in 20 years’ time, but they are not demand reduction campaigns.

Over 12 months on, this is still occurring: (see image).

In Conclusion

When nothing or very little is being spent on true demand reduction campaigns, it implicitly endorses the current behaviour of the consumers, irrespective of legality. The large conservation agencies that get the vast majority of the funding need to decide if they are working to save endangered wildlife or just working to raise money and please their donors. At the moment it very much looks like the latter and we need to make our voices heard to change THEIR behaviour!

These are the views of the author: Dr. Lynn Johnson, Founder, Breaking the Brand