Reference group influences and campaign exposure effects on rhino horn demand: Qualitative insights from Vietnam

1. While considerable effort is invested in rhino horn demand reduction campaigns, it is unclear to what extent users are exposed to and accept the messages in these ads. 2. We investigate recall as an indicator of exposure and the influence of different reference groups by conducting 50 semi-structured interviews with self-reported rhino horn users in Hanoi using an interpretative thematic analysis. 3. The decision to buy or use rhino horn was almost exclusively influenced by peers with perceived expertise using rhino horn, whereas commonly used deliverers of such campaigns-traditional medicine practitioners, doctors, government officials, business leaders and celebrities-had very little influence. 4. Campaign exposure was relatively high, but campaign influence low as consumers considered recent demand reduction campaigns and the reference groups delivering the message as well as the implementing organizations unreliable and driven by profit. 5. Willingness to sign a pledge to refrain from buying, using or gifting rhino horn encouraged by employers or association was relatively high. However, the majority of respondents stated they would not comply with this pledge. 6. Case studies of users or their next of kin having experienced negative or no effect of rhino horn were suggested possibly effective in reducing demand by consumers themselves. 7. To increase the acceptance of demand reduction campaigns, organizations could consider forgoing their own branding to reduce distrust in the target audience. 8. We highlight the importance of conducting formative research using both quantitative and qualitative methods based on interviews with actual rhino horn users. While qualitative studies of motivations by confirmed users entail the risk that they retrospectively explain motivations in order to appear internally consistent with their usage of the product, it provides valuable insight into their self-image and thereby options for affecting their behaviour.