Sandeep Goyal
Apr 12, 2021

Blog: ‘Rohit4Rhinos’ - does celebrity support for animals really work?

The author states that celebrities like Sharma need to do far more than just promote the cause

Source: Rohit Sharma Twitter
Source: Rohit Sharma Twitter
The captain of the Mumbai Indians, Rohit Sharma, sported a unique design on his IPL cricket shoes in the inaugural match of the tournament against RCB.
The specially designed shoes showcased the endangered species – The Great One Horned Indian Rhinoceros, on them.
The art on Sharma's spikes made a bold statement, literally calling out to "Save The Rhino". Though to be honest, despite watching the entire match, I did not notice the special themed shoes. And I can be pretty sure that most others too did not actually figure that there was special messaging on Rohit Sharma’s shoes to save the 'vulnerable' species from extinction. I caught the news only the next day when some newspapers carried the story.
Rohit Sharma joined World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India as its brand ambassador for Rhino Conservation in 2018. Wildlife TV channel, Animal Planet, also joined the cause around the same time. Together they then set out to create awareness and sensitise India about the species and the need for its conservation. Animal Planet ran a series of programmes during its ‘Rhino Week’ to sensitise people about these gentle giants. A special page, was also created to strengthen the campaign, through which viewers could pledge their support to the cause. 
At the time of the launch of the campaign, Rohit Sharma had gone on record to say, “It is our duty as co-inhabitants of this planet to try and protect other species that walk this planet, alongside us The future is in our hands and we should do whatever we can to ensure that our children are able to enjoy the rich bio-diversity this world has to offer. I hope that this campaign will inspire others to come forward and join Animal Planet, WWF India and I in this endeavor to save the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros.”
Support to the rhino has a long history of celebrity support. Not many may remember, but way back in 2001, Aishwarya Rai wrote to the people of South Africa, urging them to protect the black rhino, an endangered species. It made big headlines back then.
Animal causes have found favour with diverse Indian celebrities over the years. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) especially has been the biggest beneficiary of celebrity support, endorsement and benevolence. 
- John Abraham was featured in a PETA campaign some years ago with a screaming headline: No One Wants To Be Caged. Let Birds Fly Free.
- Celina Jaitley was part of a PETA ad that said: Shackled. Beaten. Abused. Stop Cruelty to Elephants. 
- Malaika Arora Khan rallied against animals in circuses: Wild birds don’t belong in the circus. Boycott Animal Circuses. 
- Siddharth Malhotra came out strongly in support of animal adoption: Push-up Sterilisation. Push Down Animal Homelessness. 
- Kalki Koechlin echoed much the same thoughts on adoption: Even The Little Tiger Needs You. Adopt, Don’t Buy. 
- Sonakshi Sinha’s theme was similar: Envision A World Without Homeless Dogs & Cats. 
- Shilpa Shetty hates the captivity of wild animals. She spoke up for PETA saying: Beaten, Lonely and Abused – Boycott The Circus. 
- Shahid Kapoor is a vegetarian. No wonder his appeal supported that very theme: Chicks love a vegetarian!
Actually the list of celebrity animal lovers is much longer. Many more celebrities like Alia Bhatt, Yana Gupta, Sherlyn Chopra, Rahul Dev, Gulshan Grover, Rakhi Sawant, Ameesha Patel, Isha Koppikar, Lara Dutta, Raveena Tandon, and Rahul Khanna have rallied against animal cruelty.
Forget Bollywood, one of Corporate India’s biggest doyens, Ratan Tata is a big supporter of animals. His Instagram page is full of pictures of dogs. One of his most moving IG posts, on 24 November 2019, was: “Of all the different sufferings that animals today have to go through, my heart truly breaks for the ones that get abandoned by families. I cannot imagine what must go through their minds when one day they have a home, and the next they don’t. The kindness in 9 month old Myra’s eyes still stays after being abandoned, and I could really use your help in finding her a family. Please don’t be hasty in making this decision, but if you know someone or if you are that someone willing to make her believe in us again, please fill the link in my bio #onehomeatatime’. Can’t think of anything more touching, or more moving.
Ratan Tata, in fact, funded a venture to create reflective collars for stray dogs to protect them from being the victims of roadkills. Such love!
Virushka are both earnest animal lovers. Anushka, on her 30th birthday announced the creation of an animal shelter for abandoned animals, entirely to be funded by her. Husband Virat was honoured by PETA for the heartfelt letter he wrote to officials requesting them to release Malti the elephant who was tortured by eight men and forced to take trips around Amer fort. Shikhar Dhawan, Dia Mirza, even politician Shashi Tharoor have been raising their voice for animals. 
But has it all really worked? Sure, the media faithfully covers the events and endorsements. However, the nett impact of all the star power showered on animals is really not known. It may not be erroneous to believe that most of these celebrity interventions are just too polite. They don’t shake up the ecosystem enough. For actual, and meaningful, results to happen, possibly more dramatic methodologies are required. 
There is the famous story about the Australian singer, Sia. Sia teamed up with PETA to raise awareness of the use of animals for clothing by creating the brilliant video for the song ‘Free the Animal’. The video used role reversal as the animals were seen modelling human body parts. It then revealed humans in cages behind the catwalk; showing what goes on behind the scenes. The video ended by showing a small child in the final cage looking terrified, which was an effective technique to create sympathy, and to shock the audience. The aim was to encourage people to put themselves in the position of the animals who were being electrocuted, skinned alive and bludgeoned to death. To date, this is said to be one of PETA’s most effective promotions ever. 
There is not enough body of valid research available globally on how effective the use of celebrities has been in animal protection. However, a study recently in the UK by a non-profit on conservation could provide interesting parallels. This experiment compared participants' “willingness-to-engage” (WTE) with, and recall of, a conservation message presented in versions of an advert featuring one of three prominent UK celebrities (David Beckham, Chris Packham or HRH Prince William) or a non-celebrity control treatment (featuring Crawford Allan, a director of TRAFFIC USA). The study found that the experiment provided evidence that celebrity endorsements can produce both positive and negative effects. Participants were more willing to engage when presented with an advert featuring one of the three celebrities than the non-celebrity control, and WTE varied according to the characteristics of the celebrity and the respondent. However, celebrities were less effective at generating campaign message recall than non-celebrities. These findings suggested that celebrity endorsements are not universally better or more effective. 
The Sia-PETA example cited above may sound somewhat extreme but then cruelty is in itself extreme. It is the handiwork of heartless people. To combat fire, may be, you need fire. So Rohit4Rhinos perhaps needs to do far more than just wearing specially designed shoes to an IPL match. 
Dr. Sandeep Goyal is the author of, Dum Dum Bullet. His newest book, Point Blank, releases next week. 
Campaign India

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