A Million Euro Coins Will Feature a Missing Child’s Face Thanks to a Nonprofit and Its Agency

How Wunderman pulled it off

On May 3, 1996, 2-year-old Liam Vanden Branden wandered out the door of his grandmother's house in Mechelen, Belgium. The blond-haired, blue-eyed boy was wearing a gray pullover, green jeans and ecru shoes with the Tom & Jerry cartoon characters on them. This is the last information known about Vanden Branden, because that rainy Friday was also the day he disappeared. He hasn't been seen since.

But starting this week, millions of Europeans will see Liam—or, at least, an image of him. In an effort known as Coins of Hope, the missing-child organization Child Focus is circulating 1 million 2-euro coins stamped with an image of what the boy would look like today, at age 22. Once in regular circulation throughout Europe, the coins will serve not only to possibly identify Vanden Branden, but raise awareness of missing children overall. Every two minutes, another child is reported missing somewhere in Europe.

"When kids go missing, fortunately a media storm whirls through our lives, and luckily this often leads to solved cases," said Samuel de Volder, executive creative director of agency Wunderman/These Days, which collaborated on the effort. "However, when kids are not found fast enough, attention drops, everybody moves on and we slowly forget about them."

Vanden Branden as he'd look now. Child Focus

But with a million coins in circulation, there's a better chance that people will remember missing kids like Vanden Branden, who was chosen because he's "the youngest child who has been missing for such a long time," de Volder said.

Wunderman/These Days has worked with Child Focus for a while now, but Coins of Hope was no ordinary cause-marketing initiative. After securing the cooperation of the Ministry of Finance, "we had to convince the Royal Mint, the EU, 19 separate European member states and, last but not least, our King Filip, who had to abdicate his place and face on the 2-euro coin," de Volder said. (The king willingly abdicated.)

A million coins is a very big number, but the EU also has some 508 million residents. To increase the campaign's reach, Wunderman/These Days created print and radio ads, stickers, point-of-sale posters and a video for TV and web (watch it below.) The spot features the parents and guardians of missing children speaking frankly and movingly about their lives—ones perennially caught between hope for a possible reunion and the fear that one will never come to pass.

The coins are, perhaps, increasing the odds of some of these stories having happy endings.

"I hope it ends up in the right place," Liam's father Dirk says in the video, speaking of the coin bearing his son's likeness. "Maybe it will result in some kind of information from an unexpected source."

To complement the video, Wunderman has also created a social-media campaign that encourages everyone who finds himself with one of the special-edition coins to take a photo with it and post the image with the hashtag #CoinsofHope. Even those who don't find themselves with one of the special coins can still participate by using a tool on the Coins of Hope website that will swap in a photo of the Vanden Branden coin for any euro coin.

The coin's launch in Europe coincides with the International Day of Missing Children, which began in the United States in 1983, four years after the disappearance of Etan Patz. The 6-year-old Patz vanished just blocks from his home in New York in 1979, and the tragedy turned swiftly into a national news story.

The Coins of Hope initiative is not the first time advertising has played a role in finding missing children. During the 1980s, "Have You Seen Me?" photos of missing children appeared on milk cartons, pizza boxes and even in junk mail. This is, however, the first time an image of a missing child will appear on actual currency.

The EU's monetary system, de Volder said, is "probably one of the most natural advertising mediums ever, spreading from hand to hand, from mind to mind, from nation to nation. Not just during the campaign, but for months and years to come. The objective being to firestart a campaign which brings back these faces to the public eye."