Food for thought: Marketing to stop the demand for ivory

“Ivory Tusk Chinese Village” by Cliff, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In How Killing Elephants Finances Terror, National Geographic writer Bryan Christy managed to infiltrate the African ivory trade with fake ivory tusks with GPS devices in them to track the supply of ivory. I definitely commend their efforts and am excited to see “Nat Geo” taking such an active role.

Their article about the project tackles the supply side of the equation, but not the demand side. Most often, to kill a market, you need to address both, which got me pondering: How could the same marketing principles we use to create demand be used to offer recommendations to eliminate the demand for ivory?

Here are my top two recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Socially stigmatize owning ivory

Considering the prices to own ivory (the National Geographic article cites $1,000 for a pair of chopsticks made of ivory and carved tusks in the six figures), they are a luxury good, which means that they are purchased to fulfill a social status need vs. solve a problem.

Most of the ivory is purchased in Asia and I don’t have experience marketing in those cultures, but if it were in the United States, my recommendations (after market research) would most likely be to create an image campaign where people who own ivory are positioned as “uncultured,” “unintelligent,” etc.

However, that’s been done with other products (such as real animal fur) with very good results, but not elimination entirely. For this, you would have to somehow take away the high price tag as the high prices themselves signal “luxury” and “social status” to most. You would also need to find a way to heavily increase the value of the carving arts with other sustainable materials.

Recommendation 2: Make ivory undesirable

One bad product experience can easily turn a customer off for life and will most likely result in a significant amount of negative word of mouth. With this in mind, is there a way to create a negative product experience for purchasers of ivory? What if those $1,000 ivory chopsticks always broke during first use? What if the beautiful white ivory carvings turned an ugly color after a few days?

This one is much trickier to recommend an execution for, but if making the actual experience of owning ivory negative, we could very quickly reduce or eliminate demand.

What would you recommend to eliminate demand?

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