Are Public Awareness Campaigns Effective?

On September 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) launched the month-long “Ivory Challenge.” USFWS crushed six tons of confiscated ivory in November of last year. Through the Ivory Challenge, they are calling for artists “to create a compelling, thought provoking, informative and impactful display to increase awareness about our fight against illegal wildlife trade.” The video advertising the Challenge with rules to apply can be viewed below:

The Ivory Challenge is one of many attempts at raising public awareness of the wildlife trafficking issue. My question is, are these types of campaigns an effective way to decrease demand and/or reduce trafficking? The Ivory Challenge has been met with some controversy from the public. A New York Times article about the challenge wrongly assumed that environmental activist and artist Asher Jay would jump at the chance to submit an entry to the contest. Jay responded to the article questioning the ethical integrity of the contest:

Let us band together and lend a voice to the voiceless, and truly ensure elephants a wild future that is not constantly threatened by the blood ivory trade. Ask yourself this: would you be comfortable with orbiting a design challenge around the remains of human victims from any mass murder or act of genocide? This is simply hypocritical, unethical and a completely counterproductive measure to every effort taken thus far to end the trade in Ivory. Say no to the design challenge, help ensure their future.

How do you effectively raise awareness and educate the public about an issue like wildlife trafficking without doing something potentially offensive or even detrimental to the cause?

Campaign Examples

Coca-Cola’s Arctic Home Campaign

In 2011, Coca-Cola initiated a five-year campaign to increase awareness and raise money for to maintain habitats for polar bears in the Arctic. In the first year of the campaign, Coca-Cola effectively raised $2 million that will go to the World Wildlife Fund.

WildAid’s Say No to Shark Fin Campaign

In 2006, WildAid launched the Say No to Shark Fin campaign to raise awareness in Chinese cities about the impact of the consumption of shark fin soup on shark populations in the oceans. A report released in 2012 showed that 75% of Chinese were unaware that shark fin soup (called fish wing soup in Mandarin) contained shark fins. Two-thirds of the 85% of survey respondents that reported giving up shark fin soup in the past three years cited awareness campaigns as the reason.

United for Wildlife’s #WhoseSideAreYouOn Campaign

United for Wildlife recently launched a social media campaign calling for people to add their voice to the fight against wildlife trafficking. They encourage individuals to join their cause, host an awareness event and tweet/Instagram with the hashtag #WhoseSideAreYouOn. Their call to action states that “the more people we have on our side, the more demand falls and the more animals survive.”

Are these campaigns effective?

For all three of these campaigns, the organization’s focus is to increase awareness and decrease demand for illegal wildlife. Coca-Cola and WildAid either have financial or statistical results from their campaign to prove its efficacy. There is a stark lack of proof for the United for Wildlife social media campaign. This raises the question of whether pure public awareness can lead to a decrease in demand. This was the case in China, where demand for shark fin soup greatly diminished when the public was made aware that the soup they were eating was leading to the deaths of millions of sharks every year. The Coca-Cola polar bear campaign is one of the most well known campaigns in America. Everyone is familiar with the commercials with friendly polar bears ice skating and drinking Coke. However, is the public aware of the danger of habitat shrinkage for polar bear populations, or do they just enjoy the cute commercials?

Throughout this semester, I will be working with a group to research the efficacy of public-private partnerships in ending the illegal wildlife trade. The idea of public awareness campaigns is something that I would like to look further into. Would it be worth it for a government to partner with an NGO to release an awareness campaign? The USFWS is a great example of a government run awareness campaign. I am anxious to see the outcome of this particular campaign.



Cameron Lagrone is a first year Master of Public Affairs student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She is a semi-native Ohioan with deep roots in Texas. She worked for two years in anti-hunger non-profits in Texas. She served for one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Texas Hunger Initiative. Cameron received a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Baylor University.

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