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A copy photo of Etan Patz taken from his missing poster is shown during a news conference near a New York City apartment building, where police and FBI agents were searching a basement for clues in the boy's 1979 disappearance, in New York, April 19, 2012.KEITH BEDFORD/Reuters

In 1979, a photograph of a child named Etan Patz appeared on milk cartons in New York for the first time. The idea was to help find missing children by putting their faces on something that people look at every day.

Now, that "something" is social media. The amount of time spent checking in on services such as Facebook trumps the milk carton. That shift led to a campaign that won the grand prix on Wednesday evening at the CASSIES, an advertising awards show that focuses on campaigns with solid results.

The campaign for the Missing Children Society of Canada by ad agency Grey Canada, described as "milk carton 2.0," launched in 2012. It was also recognized at the Cannes advertising festival this summer.

The campaign asks people to "donate" their Facebook or Twitter accounts to help spread the word about missing children in the crucial first few hours when they are most likely to be found. Donors do not give up control of their accounts entirely – they just give the Missing Children Society the power to send out a message on their behalf. These personalized messages about missing children can then be seen by each donor's stable of online friends and followers.

The campaign has also used mobile check-in app Foursquare to notify users who are closest to where an abduction happened, so that they can keep a sharper eye out. People who use the image-heavy social site Pinterest can share visual clues. And "the world's most valuable search engine" is a site that allows users to search for things using Google, but in the place of the usual advertisements that pop up next to search results, it displays updates about missing children cases.

The results? The Society estimates that through Facebook, its posts about missing children now reach 70 per cent of the Canadian population. In its first six months, the campaign was cited specifically as a factor in seven cases where children were found.

The campaign also won Gold at the CASSIES for "best media" and in the "off to a good start" category.

Other big winners

In addition to the grand prix, other campaigns were honoured with gold awards on Wednesday.

Labatt Breweries of Canada's Kokanee, for example, made a feature-length movie to promote the beer last year. Agency Grip Limited won gold in the "packaged goods – beverages" and "best integrated program" categories for turning around a brand that had seen an 11-per-cent decrease in market share and had cut its marketing budget by 70 per cent since 2007. Following the release of the movie, and a huge social campaign around its creation that allowed fans to be part of it, Kokanee's sales rose 1.8 per cent in Western Canada.

McDonald's Canada, like Kokanee and the Missing Children Society, has already been lauded at Cannes for its campaign, which featured a radical sense of transparency: the company invited customers to ask any question, no matter how unflattering, and pledged to answer. It used YouTube to crank out video responses, some of which went viral by addressing the photoshopping of burgers for advertisements and the recipe for its Big Mac sauce – and even recently taking on the PR poison of the fast-food industry, known as "pink slime." Its research showed a major increase in consumers' trust of the brand, and also increases of 73 per cent, 61 per cent, and 48 per cent in three measures of the perception of food quality. It won gold for "off to a good start" and "best integrated program."

Full list of other gold winners


Ad agency: Taxi Canada

Client: Koodo Mobile

Gold for "sustained success"

Read more about the campaign – and a possible sitcom on the horizon for its mascot – here.


Ad agency: Taxi Canada

Client: Kraft Canada

Gold for "best launch" and for "packaged goods – beverages"

Read more about this campaign here and a related campaign for Crystal Light here

Budweiser Red Lights

Ad agency: Anomaly

Client: Labatt Breweries of Canada

Gold for "events, seasonal & short-term"

Read more about Labatt's strategy for Budweiser here and here

Lobster Party

Ad agency: Leo Burnett Toronto

Client: Earls Restaurants

Gold for "events, seasonal & short-term"

By demystifying how to eat this tricky delicacy, the agency helped the restaurants sell out.


Ad agency: DentsuBos

Client: Aliments Ultima

Gold for "events, seasonal & short-term"

Ultima lost its contract to sell Yoplait in Canada, so in 2012 it launched its own brand. It managed to reach 9.6-per-cent market share in its first three months.

"Surrender Your Say"

Ad agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Canada

Client: Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada

Gold for "events, seasonal & short-term"

Read more about this Twitter campaign for Tourette Syndrome awareness here and here

Vidéotron technicians pranked

Ad agency: Sid Lee

Client: Vidéotron Ltée

Gold for "events, seasonal & short-term"

Read more about the pranks that showed just how nice the cable company's employees are, here

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