Can advertising save lives?

Numerous digital innovations are based on business ideas developed in the United States. First, Facebook and Google come in, but also the optimization and control of online advertising comes from overseas.

For marketers certainly not new territory, because in Germany, programmatic advertising has prevailed in large parts. However, automated data driven ad control still has a bad reputation, and especially end users find irrelevant ads as intrusive and unhelpful. What many do not know: The same technology can also be used to save lives and reunite parents with their missing children.

Also interesting: how advertising improves the world

By October 1, approximately 11,300 people were reported missing

Missing and abducted children are a worldwide problem. Most of the missing persons reappear after a few days or hours, but the number of missing persons reports is shockingly high: according to the official figures of the BKA, approximately 11,300 people were reported missing by 1 October 2018, half of them being children and adolescents. Every day, between 200 and 300 children are reported missing in Germany alone.


In the United States, the numbers are even higher: Every 90 seconds a child is reported missing or abducted. In 2017, the FBI reported more than 400,000 cases. Can progressive digitization not help here?

That’s what American technology companies and online publishers also thought, and formed the non-profit alliance, the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA), with the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). With the help of programmatic advertising and in combination with geo-targeting, missing and abducted children are to be found.

Amber Alert
Amber Alert (Photo: FIA)

When publisher, police and adtech industry work together

As early as 1996, the NCMEC introduced the Amber Alert information and messaging system to send search messages to affiliated radio stations. Since then, 992 children have been rescued. In times of Mobile First, the organization FIA now goes one step further. With the help of programmatic advertising not only hyperlocal advertisements, but also search messages can be controlled.

At the site of the kidnapping or missing person report, an alert is activated by means of geo-targeting in order to inform people about the incident and in the best case to persuade them to actively participate in the search or to forward information to the competent authorities.

To ensure the fastest possible notification, the member companies of the FIA ​​have jointly developed a programmatic infrastructure for the delivery of advertising. For this, publishers were asked to donate parts of their media inventory so that the FIA ​​system can play Amber Alerts in the form of display ads.

Once an incident is reported, the FIA ​​will generate an alert containing the child’s name and any information about the alleged kidnapper (make and model of his car, license plate and other identifying features). The alert is provided through FIA geo-targeting for the specific area in which the incident occurred, and the alerts are displayed hyperlocally on mobile devices and computers.

Winter Storm Warning Nyc Fia
Storm Warning (Photo: FIA)

A short video explains how the system works. FIA has an “Alert Hub” on Amazon Cloud. Information provided by public authorities informs about child abduction, tornado warnings and the like. The alerts are immediately displayed to users in the affected regions – no matter which device they use.

Advertising technology as a model for crisis warning systems

Despite the sometimes dubious reputation of display ads and the associated targeting capabilities, the FIA ​​is a consistently positive example of using data-driven ad controls. The work of the FIA ​​has also won numerous awards, including the Cannes Lion and the Webby.

Due to the positive response, the FIA ​​is expanding its alerts with other types of time-sensitive and potentially life-saving alerts. Examples of new FIA technology applications include evacuation evacuation notices released by US federal agencies. Food recalls and water contamination warnings are also under review.

Also interesting: channels for successful online video advertising

About the Author: Ari Levenfeld is Chief Privacy Officer at Sizmek and has more than a decade of experience in the AdTech industry, focusing on data governance, policy and inventory quality. Ari is responsible for compliance with legal and industry standards and regulations.

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