[Dr. Steven Greenfield of the University of Cambridge and Diogo Verıssimo of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation and Research and the University of Oxford recently published an article in Social Marketing Quarterly titled “To What Extent Is Social Marketing Used in Demand Reduction Campaigns for Illegal Wildlife Products? Insights From Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn.” We are pleased to welcome them as a contributors and happy to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. Below, further insights regarding inspiration behind the research, as well as additional information not included in the final publication, are available.]
For the last 50 years social marketers have been using marketing principles to promote behaviours that positive for individual citizens but also for society as a whole, such as healthy eating, family planning and physical exercise. More recently, principles of social marketing have also been applied to wildlife conservation. The illegal wildlife trade is a topic that has gathered a lot of interest from those looking to influence consumers of illegal wildlife products. While the wildlife trade is very diverse, encompassing anything from illegal fishing to trade in ornamental plants or pet animals, some of the products that get the most attention are elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. These charismatic animals hold a lot of sway with audiences in western countries and as such, much has been done in the last decade to try and change consumers’ minds when it comes to buying these products.
Yet, despite the increased attention given to social marketing when it comes to tackling the demand for wildlife products, it is important to acknowledge that social marketing is a complex framework, and its implementation can be challenging. In particular, the controversial nature of the topic, added to the fact that, traditionally, most conservationists have been trained in natural sciences and thus, have limited experience in the social sciences broadly and behavioral sciences more specifically. This context led us to examine the extent to which social marketing was actually being used in campaigns to reduce demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn.
To go about this, we first had to have a clear idea of what defines a social marketing intervention. We used the benchmarks created by the UK’s National Social Marketing Centre. After interviewing representatives of several NGOs working to reduce demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn, our research concluded that while there were substantial differences between organizations, overall there was limited evidence of the use of social marketing. There were also substantial differences in attention given to different benchmarks, with some, like attention to competition, being virtually ignored and others, such as customer orientation or audience segmentation, given at least some attention by all the organizations interviewed.
One key result of this research, is the limited consideration given to the exchange benchmark, which focuses on considering the costs and benefits of adopting a new behaviour, from the perspective of the target audiences. It is worth singling out this benchmark as it has deep conceptual impacts on the way we think about behaviour change. First, because this benchmark makes it clear that we have to fully consider the costs incurred when changes in behaviour occur and second, it makes it clear that this understanding must be framed from the point of view of the target audience. These two issues are key as interventions designed to preserve biodiversity are often designed without fully considering opportunity and social costs of changing any behaviour and as if the target audience shared the high value placed on wildlife that most conservationists would subscribe to. The reality is that, for many people in the world, wildlife, and wildlife conservation is an afterthought that has to compete with the many concerns they come across in their busy daily lives. As such, without framing these campaigns around genuine benefits exchanges that are compelling to consumers of these products, there is little chance of success. No doubt the way forward will be to ensure that demand reduction interventions make full use of the social marketing benchmarks to increase the chances of impact and see the success in fields such as public health be replicated in wildlife conservation.
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