MCSC: Milk Carton 2.0

Grand Prix

Off to a Good Start (GOLD)
Best Use of Media (GOLD)

Client Credits: Missing Children Society of Canada
Amanda Pick

Agency Credits: Grey Canada
Patty Moher
Patrick Scissons
Malcolm McLean
Toby Pilling
Mark Brombacher
Marshneill Abraham
Dave Barber
James Ansley
Yusong Zhang
Todd Lawson
Daryl Brewer
John Breton


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):May 25 - December 2012
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: May 25, 2012
Base Period as a Benchmark: Previous 12 months (May 2011 - May 2012)

a) Overall Assessment

Each year, more than 50,000 children are reported missing in Canada - that’s one child every 10 minutes.  When a child first goes missing, the police, media and the surrounding community typically rally together to help the terrified and grieving family search for their child.  However, as time goes by, that involvement diminishes and leaves the family to continue the search on their own. It is for these families that the MCSC was established in 1986. A small organization, the MCSC conducts front-line investigations travelling nationally and internationally on behalf of families. In fact, they are the only Canadian organization committed to investigation, search and rescue of children. Even when RCMP cases go cold, MCSC provides value-added search assistance until a case is solved. MCSC’s mission is solely – and ceaselessly - to reunite missing children with their searching families.

Garnering support from the public and corporate Canada has proven to be a tremendous challenge. MCSC is small and has virtually no budget dedicated to fight for donations with the more established charities that dominate public interest and media attention. Furthermore, though they are the only body dedicated to the search and rescue of missing children, there are other non-profit organizations that advocate for missing children (i.e. Child Find, which is focused on prevention and child safety). Having similar organizations in the public eye creates public confusion about who and how to support. With limited financial support, there has been virtually no advertising for MCSC in the past. Awareness efforts have been limited to localized photo and poster distributions, website postings and newsletters.

As for the public, the overwhelming majority understands the urgency of a missing child case but most often do not know how to help. The first 3 hours after a child goes missing are the most critical, and it’s precisely in this window that the public’s help matters most. Sadly, not nearly enough public response currently occurs during that window.  

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Though they handle an estimated 50,000 reported cases every year, MCSC lacked a national presence and reliable base of financial support. Public brand awareness of the organization was less than 4%, they received no government funding, they had low levels of public support (less than $200,000 annually), and corporate sponsorship was virtually non-existent. Surprisingly, MCSC also did not have “amber alert” status with law enforcement in Ontario, the province with the largest number of missing kids cases reported in Canada.

Our goals for Awareness:

  • Increase public aided brand awareness from 4% to 15%.  
  • Achieve 10 million earned media impression on International Missing Children’s Day.


Our goals for donations:

  • Increase public donations by +15% VYA and put the organization “back in the black”.                               
  • Increase corporate sponsorship +15% VYA in donated services, media assets and cash funds.                                                    


Ancillary goals:

  • Secure ‘Amber Alert” status with the Ontario Police Department.    

c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area

a) Analysis and Insight

MCSC had little existing historic research or funds to engage in any new proprietary research from which we could garner insights and build our strategy. However, taking inspiration from the organization’s grass roots culture and operations, we implemented some of our own intelligence gathering.

To frame our challenge, we mined for insights in four areas – People & Culture, Category, Channel, and Brand - that were critical to develop our strategy. First, we spoke extensively with volunteers and investigators connected with MCSC to find out what their real-life experiences of community outreach, fund-raising, and most importantly the process of searching for lost children could teach us. We learned how their commitment to the organization – and singularly its mission to find kids - was grounded in their belief that we all had a role to play in the search for missing children, with each of us doing what we can in our own way.

Second, we used social media platforms as an efficient and costless way to conduct our own coast-to-coast polling of the public. This allowed us to get quick reads on basic measures like brand and issue awareness, behaviours relating to charitable giving, etc. It was illuminating to learn that MCSC was not considered to be a “traditional” charity, or at least categorized with other charities like Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, WWF, or the United Way.  It appeared that since people believe that a missing child was the outcome of a crime (which was statistically untrue), they didn’t see it as something they would or could necessarily impact or support.

Third, we engaged in man-on-the-street intercepts in both Toronto and Vancouver. We collected 37 interviews with adults to augment what we had already learned, but more importantly to reveal deeper contextual insights around the drivers and barriers of engagement relating to the reaction and role of the public when a child is reported missing.

Through this journey of discovery and analysis, we landed on the following insights:

  • People default to inaction if they assume the police are involved
  • The category demands creativity in the pursuit of increasingly scarce SOM and SOW
  • Inspiring mass action requires more engagement than traditional mass tools provide
  • MCSC’s “culture of search” was more engaging than the organizations’ mission


Based on the analysis and insights outlined above, our strategy was to move the brand from the perception that MCSC is taking care of the issue to being A responsibility of all. We would accomplish this by undertaking a simple, yet powerful shift in brand behaviour: Make search a collaborative community effort. This behaviour would change the way the organization operated internally, planned activity, structured messaging, and most importantly evolved the role of the public.

b) Communication Strategy

Naturally we used our Client’s objectives of building awareness and driving donations as the parameters for our communications strategy. A conventional approach would have seen a mass advertising campaign with a call to action for financial support. Instead, we embraced our new brand behaviour to inspire some innovative thinking.


First, we recognized that we had to pivot away from telling people about the issue to new thinking that would engage them in the issue. Even if we had the budget, a traditional mass campaign would do little to address the barriers that kept the public from getting involved. Data showed how the first 3 hours in a search were critical to a successful recovery, but not enough public response occurs during that window. Social and digital platforms were the answer, being the optimal intersection between awareness, community engagement and the ability to immediate take action.

Second, we reinterpreted the Client request to drive donations. The conventional cycle of asking the public for money to fund a campaign to ask for money was not playing an active enough role in the search for missing children and had to be broken. We were clear-sighted to the fact that MCSC was a dwarf among giants in the category of charitable organizations. The cost to compete would be more than what we could possibly raise, and little if any money would actually find itself funding the search for missing kids. So rather than asking the public to donate their monetary currency, for the first time we would instead ask them to donate their social currency. This insightful shift would change the organization forever. Now the public could easily and effectively be part of the search.

a) Media Used

There was no media budget.  The initiative was launched at a small PR event at the Agency on International Missing Children’s Day. Budget was under $50.

Channels Used

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Foursquare

b) Creative Discussion

We were inspired by the case of Etan Patz, a boy that went missing in New York City in 1979 and who became the face that established milk cartons as a medium for building awareness for missing kids. Some 30 years later, missing kids on milk cartons are no more yet each year the Missing Children’s Society still handles tens of thousands of reported cases in Canada with limited financial resources for expansive search efforts. Our idea was to create Milk Carton 2.0. – an array of web and mobile tools on platforms including Facebook, Google and Foursquare that raised awareness while at the same time actively engaged the public in the search for missing children.

Our arsenal of innovative digital and social media mechanisms was rolled out in succession, each building on and amplifying the success of the one before it, starting with The World’s Most Valuable Social Network.

The World’s Most Valuable Social Network: The first-ever online search party. A person donates their social network (Facebook or Twitter) to MCSC. When a child goes missing, an alert is posted on their Facebook wall or as a tweet from their account – reaching everyone in their social network. The more people that see the child’s face, the more likely that they are found. 

The Most Valuable Search Engine: Taking the 80 million Google searches that Canadians make a day, we took away ads on the side banner, and instead showed active cases, successful rescues, and tips for parents on keeping their child safe.

The Most Valuable Pinboard: A missing child’s face only tells so much. These special boards on Pinterest linked to alerts and allowed authorities to share more visual triggers, like clothing or an abductor’s vehicle.

The Most Valuable Check-in: A new mobile tool that sends notifications to foursquare locations closest to where the abduction took place. These were the people most likely to report a sighting.

Milk Carton 2.0 was an innovative approach that continues to support MCSC’s search & rescue efforts at no cost or staffing requirements. It has also proved to be a highly successful and impactful initiative that perpetuates awareness every time a missing child alert message is sent out – once again, at no media cost to the MCSC. 

c) Media Discussion

Without a media investment, creativity was key in executing a national campaign.


The official campaign launch date was International Missing Children’s Day on May 25, 2012. In the week leading up, we began seeding to key influencers to donate their social networks to create pre-buzz and talk value. We sent out an influencer letter to all contacts within the MCSC network and agency network to urge key individuals to join the cause.


On May 25th launch day, efforts were focused on generating as much PR as possible. A press conference was held in Toronto with multiple news outlets in attendance including member of the Ontario Provincial Police Association. In addition a press release was sent out to national news outlets. 


After the initial launch, momentum and success was sustained organically as more and more people opted in and donated their social networks. 

a) Sales/Share Results

The impact of our Milk Carton 2.0 campaign was significant:


  • Aided awareness 12 wks post launch jumped from 4% to 31%
  • The initiative garnered 23 million earned media impressions on International Missing Children’s Day and exceeded our objective by 114%
  • Facebook posts reached over 70% of Canadians


  • 6 mos. post launch, online donations increased 15%
  • 4 mos. post launch, Westjet and Tervita signed as Corporate Partners at a sponsorship level 2X higher than any other in the 3 years prior
  • Corporate sponsorship value (funds/media/services) increased 27% VYA

Ancillary Success

  • Amber alert status was secured with the Ontario Police Department
  • Our initiative is being rolled out in global markets



  • The campaign has won awards at the ADCC, Clios, Webbys, D&AD, One Show & One Show Interactive, Marketing, Applied Arts, and Cannes.

Delivering on the MCSC mission

  • This is the most important measure of the effectiveness and impact of our campaign. In the first 6 months, 7 children were found directly due to Milk Carton 2.0 – facts verified by post-recovery interviews and police reports. (*actual names removed from public view)
    • Jane Doe*, Age 16. 12 weeks after the Most Valuable Social Network was introduced, a young girl from Hope, British Columbia was reported missing. The Most Valuable Social Network was immediately deployed. Within 36 hours of the alert being issued, Jane Doe was safely located by police in Alberta, as a direct result of her MCSC alert being seen. Successful rescue.
    • John Doe 1 & John Doe 2*, Age 8 & 9. On August 27th an amber alert was issued for John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, two young boys age 8 & 9 that were abducted in. The two children were safely located within 24 hours thanks to a tip from an online community connection from a Most Valuable Social Network search party member on Twitter. Successful rescue.
    • Jane Doe*, Age 14. From Manitoba. Located and safely returned home within 72 hours. Successful rescue.
    • John Doe*, Age 3. From British Columbia. Identified and located in the US by someone who saw the alert on Facebook. Successful rescue.
    • Jane Doe*, Age 14. From Saskatchewan. Runaway. Successful rescue.
    • John Doe*, 1 year old. From Ontario. Parental abduction. Successful rescue.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

From a public awareness and consumer engagement standpoint, the initiatives of Milk Carton 2.0 - like the Most Valuable Social Network – were the only means of engagement MCSC undertook during the entire course of the campaign. There was no other activity.

From a search and rescue standpoint, we know that the Most Valuable Social Network played either a supporting or a direct role in the successful recovery of each of the referenced missing children cases because Milk Carton 2.0 was specifically referenced in police reports & interviews, post child recovery.

This case proves that creativity can be applied throughout the strategic and creative process. Creativity was applied to our analysis of the business problem, but most critically drove our insightful reinterpretation of the role of the public and what a donation could be.


Creatively, Milk Carton 2.0 and its components are the ultimate example of driving effective business results. We overachieved on each and every campaign objective and did so at virtually no cost to the organization. When measuring the effectiveness of this campaign against the explosion of awareness, public engagement, increased financial support, and safe return of 7 missing children, the ROI of Milk Carton 2.0 is incalculable. 

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

The budget for the campaign was $0 - results were not driven by an increase in spending. 


All campaign elements were through social media and there were no ad buys on those channels.

Distribution Changes:

Coverage has consistently been National. Aside from these listed here, no other campaign elements were used for the Missing Children Society Of Canada during this time period. 

Unusual Promotional Activity:

The media budget was $0 and all campaign elements and channels leveraged free capabilities that the social networks provide. Because of this, the question of price-cutting or high-value promotional activity is not applicable.

Other Potential Causes:

Any applicable factors have already been detailed in this case.