Portrait of Laura Thomas-Walters

Laura Thomas-Walters

PhD student
Conservation Biology


PhD project: Social marketing and behaviour change for demand reduction in wildlife trade 

Tackling the illegal wildlife trade is a top international priority, as it poses a major threat to many species. Traditionally, practitioners have sought to address the problem though supply-side interventions, such as trade bans, anti-poaching measures, and even wildlife farming. However, these attempts to reduce the supply of wildlife products have largely failed and poaching of certain high-value species such as tigers, elephants and pangolins is on the rise, driven by growing demand from consumers in East Asia. Thus, conservationists increasingly recognise the importance of demand-side interventions, which involve changing the attitudes and behaviour of people who currently use illegal wildlife products. 

Social marketing uses marketing concepts to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. Barriers to desired behaviours are identified, and addressed via campaigns featuring a range of behaviour change tools such as incentives, commitments and social norms. The ‘Chi Campaign’, a rhino horn demand-reduction programme in Vietnam run by TRAFFIC and Save The Rhino, is one example of a campaign using an evidence-based social-science approach to social marketing. 

Another advantage of social marketing is that it provides a framework for measuring project effectiveness. This is important because while many NGOs run demand-reduction marketing campaigns, the extent to which they are grounded in evidence-based practice is unclear. To maximise effectiveness, campaigns should address market characteristics and drivers of demand. There are many factors that influence the success of demand-reduction campaigns and the academic literature has investigated a number of issues, such as how the rarity value of a product makes using it a status symbol, and whether celebrity-based campaigns are more effective in changing social attitudes. However, the extent to which NGOs draw on published social science research to inform the design of social marketing campaigns is unknown. 

Laura proposes to analyse the trends in current and past demand-reduction campaigns, examine the behavioural economics/psychology literature for suggestions on how they may better address demand, and then conduct trials of alternative social marketing tools. In addition, she aims to create a scientifically rigorous framework for use by NGOs in demand-reduction campaigns, similar to the EAST framework for government policymakers developed by the British Behavioural Insights Team.

Laura Thomas-Walters is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology


Dr Bob Smith


University of Kent Alumni Research Scholarship  

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