Why I’m thrilled our elephant ad was stolen

The "Mom, I got teeth!" PSA ad running in China.Mom, I got teeth.”

“Mom, I’ve got teeth!

Mom, aren’t you happy I have teeth now?”

The innocent questions posed by an elephant calf reveal the bloody truth behind the cruel and unnecessary trade of ivory, which costs the lives of hundreds of thousands of elephants. Based on the above information, 1, compose a title for the PSA using no more than 15 characters (2 points); 2, analyze the design concept for the PSA (3 points).

Unbeknownst to the International Fund for Animal Welfare China office, the concept for our “Mom I have teeth” public service announcement (PSA) was “taken” by Zhejiang Education Bureau into the Chinese language portion of the National College Entrance Exams, which in that province was taken by nearly 300,000 students this past June.

Every year, each college applicant has to take the grueling two-day exam, which in 2011 was taken by a total of 9.3 million high school graduates across the country.

Forget about requesting our permission or protecting our intellectual property, I am thrilled to see that IFAW campaign messages so completely and unreservedly absorbed into the exam. Now, every one of those 300,000 exam takers in Zhejiang understands the connection between ivory trade and the killing of elephants.  

In Chinese, “ivory” literally means “elephant tooth”. After discovering the disconcerting fact that seven out of ten people in China didn’t know ivory comes from dead elephants, IFAW designed the PSA to educate people about the detrimental effects on elephants from the ivory trade in our global campaign to reduce demand for elephant ivory.

Since 2008, thanks to corporations in China that provided IFAW with pro-bono ad space, thousands of billboards carrying this poignant dialogue between an elephant calf and its mother walking into the African savanna sunset, have appeared at airports, on trains and in subways across the country.\

In Guangzhou—an ivory trade hotspot—the IFAW PSA was installed right at the city’s notorious ivory street where every stall sells elephant ivory. “I felt strongly that your ivory PSA should take that platform!” explained the ad agency manager, when I thanked her for giving us that important placement.

On an internet forum, a young mother posted a photo she took of the PSA using her cell phone, expressed her remorse in taking the life of an elephant with the purchase of an ivory bracelet. She pledged to reject ivory products and tell all her friends to do the same.

A former ivory carver thanked IFAW for informing him about the facts and vowed not to carve with elephant ivory ever again.

Thousands of comments and messages like these were posted online in blogs, forums and social networking sites, showing people’s appreciation for the lives of animals and their moral stand to reject the trade that decimates wildlife.   

In the next two weeks, I will attend two workshops in Asia specifically on understanding consumer behavior with the outcome of developing effective demand reduction campaign messages. I plan to enter the workshops with an open mind and look forward to the out-of-the-box thinking.

I will offer to the workshop the successful example of the IFAW “Mom, I have teeth” PSA, and how important it is for the development of campaign messages to be highly informed by people who understand the language of the target audience and the cultural, social and political context.

Not all demand reduction campaign messages can pull on people’s heart strings like this one. But they have to resonate with the people whose behavior they hope to change.


Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime