Effective campaigns draw on rigorous knowledge about how, where, and when to best reach specific target audiences. They encourage purposeful action that leads to measurable outcomes. They showcase creative ideas that come from passion for the cause, rigor in understanding the audience, and imagination. #TruckArtChildFinder is not only a great campaign but it inspires us to think more deeply about where our messages show up in the world.

In Pakistan, more than 3,000 children go missing every year. They are often trafficked, exploited, abused, and even murdered. Pakistani nongovernmental organizations have had difficulty keeping up with the pressure to find these children and reunite them with their families. One organization working on this issue, Roshni Helpline, and paint company Berger Paints, came up with a novel and culturally spot-on approach to finding missing children. They worked with anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan to build a unique campaign to keep missing children top of mind for Pakistanis. The effort resulted in children being reunited with their families.

Truck art in Pakistan is a long-held tradition. Its roots are in the Sufi, or Muslim mystic, tradition of shrine painting. And some drivers spend several years of salary to have their trucks professionally painted by “jingle truck” artists. The more ornate, elaborate, and flamboyant the truck art, the more accomplished the business. 

Roshni Helpline capitalized on the tradition and painted the portraits of 20 missing children on the backs of trucks. The truck drivers drove the vehicles around the country, exposing them to hundreds of thousands of people, including many who would not have learned about the missing children in the news or on TV. Because of tips from people having seen the trucks, five of those children were reunited with their families. View the film about the campaign here.

The success of this campaign relied on two key insights:

  1. The truck drivers take great pride in their trucks and welcome having them elaborately painted at no cost.

    In Pakistan, elaborately decorated trucks are part of the landscape. The tradition began in the 1920s as a way to distinguish one trucking company from another . Since then, truck art has become more extravagant and a source of great pride for the Pakistani people. In the city of Karachi alone, there are more than 50,000 people employed in truck-painting shops. Trucks are adorned with elaborate patterns, cultural symbols, and portraits of politicians and film stars. And now they feature missing children. Truck art is expensive, so drivers are willing to help get the message out in exchange for having their trucks painted.

  1. The message is stronger when linked with media placement.

    In the case of missing children, images of them spur people to take action. The adult literacy rate in Pakistan is around 60%, which means 40% of the population cannot read about missing children. And, according to a Gallup survey, only about 9% of Pakistanis use the internet weekly. While watching TV is prevalent with more than 75% of the population, it does not link the missing-children message with the medium. The children are typically trafficked on the streets, so saturating the area with their likenesses on trucks creates a stronger link to the information. The result is a more memorable message.

Get inspired to explore unlikely options for your messaging. Rather than turning to the usual partners and places, ask yourself:

  • Who are unlikely allies in our cause? And, how can we make it easy for them to participate? 
  • Is there something of value we can provide to partners to get them to carry our messages? 
  • Are you making a link between your messages and the media? This means exploring place-based media that can be tailored to your messages.