Digital & Social Media

The Missing Get New Eyeballs

The Missing Get New Eyeballs

Campaign: The Australian Federal Police is using YouTube to help find people who have been missing in some cases for years. Partnering with Google and VML Australia, the authorities created pre-roll ads featuring missing countrymen. They then transformed the YouTube skip button into a method for letting the audience say, “Yes, I have” or “No, I haven’t” seen the person featured in the ad.

Each advert included a photo and description of one of the more than 1,600 long-term missing persons in Australia and information on when and where they were last seen. The ads were then geo-targeted to those same locations of the sightings. Viewers clicking on the ‘Yes, I have’ icon were then directed to a website where they could fill out a report about their sighting. The ads were complemented with banner ads showing more missing people.

The campaign launched on July 29 during Australia’s National Missing Persons Week. VML reported that the campaign was viewed by 1.2 million people in five days, and 238 people clicked on the ‘Yes, I have’ button.

Contagious, FleishmanHillard’s Childs Weigh In

Contagious: The Australian Federal Police’s pre-roll ads, in the words of deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin, bring “the milk carton concept into the digital age.” The campaign shows smart media positioning, turning dead time that viewers spend waiting to click on the ‘skip’ button into a useful moment that enables them to do good. As the campaign video says, it makes “a few unavoidable seconds really count.” We think the geo-targeting feature of this campaign makes it stand out, Creating a useful tool by raising the probability that viewers would actually have encountered the missing people.

This idea reminds us of a couple of other initiatives. The NotFound project, for example, transforms the 404 Not Found error messages that pop up when a website doesn’t exist into information about missing children. Across Europe, 13 million missing children posters have gone up on 404 sites. Similarly, last year we reported on how Swedish organization Civil Rights Defenders turned CAPTCHA tests into a means of raising awareness about human rights violations. These examples show how a simple online mechanism can be used to promote an issue that is unlikely to be otherwise top of mind.

Nick Childs: These days, agencies are being charged to tackle an ever-increasing complexity of marketing platforms, usually simultaneously. It goes something like, “We need to edit our user-collaborated social media content into a spot for both broadcast and Instagram, and don’t forget to layer in a background song to stream on Soundcloud.” So it’s heartening to see a smart, simple campaign created for a platform that viewers until now have studiously programmed themselves to skip—the pre-roll ad.

Let’s face it, the task of creating a pre-roll campaign often boils down to acknowledging the unfortunate reality that you are trying to get a reluctant and even resentful audience to engage for that first five seconds. But where others saw a wasteland, VML Australia and Google saw an opportunity to make that time actually count.

Reminiscent of Google’s earlier reCAPTCHA effort (see Luis Von Anh’s TedX talk), the ads repurpose what could have been an annoying experience into a powerful call to action. And while the campaign should inspire brands broadly, it’s especially interesting to anyone approaching non-profit and PSA work.

Often, the greatest creativity is shown not by inventing something new, but by having a seemingly simplistic insight turn the mundane into the remarkable. And here’s where the Missing Person Pre-Roll campaign succeeded so well in that context:

  • While missing-persons photos hanging in a police station tend to be seen only by the same few people every day, the campaign created a virtual world in which millions of people would be forced to examine those same faces daily with fresh eyes.
  • The creative team subtly tweaked an action the audience was overly familiar with—pressing a skip button—and initiated a powerful, easy-to-engage call to action for pressing yes or no to the question of whether viewers had seen the face.
  • And, smartest of all, they geo-targeted each photo to the last known location of the missing person so the chances of getting a positive response would increase exponentially.

To me, this effort brings together the best of all worlds: a critical strategic purpose, coupled with smart and engaging creative work that could be launched in a timely manner and sustain a longer campaign. And while the numbers seem small so far – 238 “yes, I have” responses out of 1.2 million impressions – if even one of those clicks leads to finding a missing person, I’m guessing that family will argue this was the most important marketing idea ever conceived.


About the author

This article was syndicated from Contagious Feed, an indispensable resource to the marketing communications industry focusing on competitive intelligence, best practices, new technology and consumer behavior. In addition to the flagship quarterly publication, app and Feed, Contagious has developed a consultancy and a series of world-class conferences, including its annual Most Contagious event.

Nick Childs is the executive creative director for FleishmanHillard, working out of the New York office. He has been with the company since 2011 after a career in advertising that included Grey and other high-profile agencies.