How a Hit Song and Digital AdTech is Helping Locate Missing Children

Combine a music video, a website, and digital billboards and you have a powerful multi-platform tool to find missing children and one the largest digital out of home advertising campaigns in American history.

Those of you in the Generation  X age group may remember the song Runaway Train by American grunge band Soul Asylum.

The song dealt with depression and the film clip interspersed the band singing with the photos and names of real missing children along with the date on which they each disappeared. The clip featured different messages (and children in different countries, the US version beginning with the text: “There are over one million youth lost on the streets of America” and the UK version “100,000 youth are lost on the streets of Britain.”

The song with a huge hit globally, not only reasoning with people musically but actually helping to find missing children. Three original versions of the video were screened in the US resulting in 21 missing children of 36 shown being located since the video aired. (The children would be updated in subsequent clips to show others missing).  It didn’t all end in happily – The UK version of the video featured two girls whose remains were found 16 years later, with Peter Tobin has since been convicted of both murders. The Australian version was particularly sinister, showing a number of young backpacking tourists whose families were looking for them. Several of them turned out to be victims of Ivan Milat whose bodies were discovered in Belanglo State Forest, New South Wales Australia.

Well, it’s been 25 years since the hit song and a cover of the song has been released along with the website RunawayTrain25.com. Creative agency M/H VCCP have developed a world-first use of geolocation tech. The music video uses geo-targeted feeds to display images of local children from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) online and on digital billboards and transit screens. Most missing children are found in their home state, share the film with your social network, and they will see missing kids from their area.

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Runaway Train is one of the largest dynamic Digital Out of Home campaigns of its kind in American history. Print advertisements in American Airlines in-flight magazines tell passengers what signs to look for to prevent sex trafficking. Donated media from Hulu, Vox Media, Twitter, and Reddit ensures that the more faces missing children will be in front of more people in more relevant places. The cover version of the song may not be the best version it could be, but at HYGH we’re a big fan of tech and digital out of home advertising being used for social good, and this is a mighty fine example.

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