These Fab Sidewalk Billboards Put Missing Kids' Faces in Front of Pedestrians

A German initiative combines tech and social media to help bring more kids home.
Apr 1, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Every year 800,000 children go missing in the United States—that's 2,000 kids every single day. Although using AMBER alerts to notify drivers about kids who've been abducted by strangers or family members or who've run away has successfully recovered 685 kids since 1996, it can feel easier to find a stolen car than a missing kid.

One solution to this problem could be an innovative effort happening in Hamburg, Germany. Advertising agency thjnk has joined forces with Missing Children, an initiative that gets the word out about the 100,000 kids reported lost in that country every year. Together they're using a combination of technologically tricked-out sidewalk billboards and social media to inform the public and get kids home.

The above video, which is in German, begins by depicting only blank white screens. The oddity—how often do you see blank advertisements when you're walking through your local downtown?—catches the attention of passersby. Then a second screen, which is covered with a transparent film, turns on, making it look like you're viewing an entry on Missing Children's Facebook page, complete with a picture and information about the child.

The approach spotlight's Missing Children's belief that encouraging the public to share information about lost children through social media can quickly get the word out to more people. Even though we can get AMBER alerts on our phones now, we're probably not in the habit of texting all of our friends or sharing on our Facebook pages that a child is missing. But you can see in the video how people start taking out their smartphones and using them to find out more and share information. Given that the first three hours that a child is missing are the most critical, it's an idea that could get more kids home safe and sound.