Truck Art Childfinder – At the intersection of design and activism

Text | Zainab Marvi
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Visuals | As Mentioned

Issue 52

Project Data

Client: Berger Paints
Creative Agency: BBDO Pakistan
Executive Creative Director: Ali Rez
Chief Creative Officer: Paul Shearer
Collaborating Artist and Production: Samar Minallah Khan
Copywriter: Huma Mobin
Creative Director: Hira Mohibullah
Associate Creative Director: Moiz Khan
Collaborating Organisation: Roshni Helpline
Video: Sarah Tareen Productions
Artists: Hayat Khan, Tahir Hayat, Javed Gul, Waras Khan, Suhail Ghori, Abdur Rehman


Design, as a field, is multifaceted, linked to culture, society and technology. As such, effective local design can only emanate from our own cultural, social, and economic identities and realities. It is common for people and organizations with influence to advocate for and work on certain social issues and concerns, however, as this happens, it is essential that they acquire a comprehensive understanding of cultural sensibilities. This ensures that solutions designed are human-centric, culturally relevant, and rooted in local context. It is imperative to understand how even the smallest of thoughts, words, and actions can have consequences. At the heart of any social awareness campaign is human engagement – the opportunity to forge authentic connections through a powerful, compelling narrative. It is through this engagement that a social campaign can transform its purpose from raising awareness about a cause to inspiring action, creating a ripple effect of positive change. (Source: D&AD)

The Missing Children
Every year, more than 3000 children go missing in Pakistan. Some are reported, many are not. Unfortunately, regardless of whether they are kidnapped, abducted, or trafficked within the country, there is no mechanism in place to ensure a timely response to move for their urgent recovery. In the absence of necessary systems, citizens resort to the use of advertisements on the television, radio, social media, newspapers, and cellphone based text messages in search of any information that may help. This, however, begs the question: do these modes build a network vast enough to reach the furthest and remotest areas of the country? Does it reach those who do not have access to conventional or popular news media? Artist and anthropologist Samar Minallah Khan – who has previously led women empowerment initiatives with her team of truck artists – in collaboration with Roshni Helpine – an NGO specializing in the recovery of missing children – creative agency BBDO Pakistan, Berger Paints, and Sarah Tareen Productions, stepped in to create an unconventional and innovative social campaign, Truck Art Childfinder. 

Providing renewed hope to parents; artists, designers, filmmakers, and human rights activists came together to be part of a collaboration as catalysts for social change. Making use of traditional truck art, Truck Art Childfinder features portraits of missing children alongside the campaign’s hotline number and information about the child, painted onto the back of trucks. These vehicles navigate across the length and breadth of Pakistan, journeying from Karachi to Khyber, to regions not easily accessible by mainstream media, thus becoming, as Khan describes it, “billboards on wheels that blend seamlessly into local settings”. Setting the bar higher for media innovation, this campaign aims to recover missing children while simultaneously educating people on how to report a missing child. Innovation aside, one must wonder why use trucks? According to Ali Rez, Regional Executive Creative Director at Impact BBDO Middle East and Pakistan, missing children are often displaced quickly within the country so the need of the hour was to come up with a strategic solution for an efficient mobile mechanism, which could quickly disperse throughout the country and spread the word. Several options were considered, including rickshaws, before settling on the goods trucks. This is where the creative ingenuity lies. Truck Art is one of the most popular visual art mediums in Pakistan and something Pakistanis are accustomed to. 

This form of art features ornate designs and patterns, framed around magnificent portraits of politicians, military leaders, or actors, often accompanied with witty poetry. Its penetration is far and wide, such that it has evolved into a formal art form with dedicated truck artists. Instantly recognizable for its dazzling display of bold, bright, and vibrant designs it captures the eye, so to replace celebrity images on these trucks with paintings of missing children was a stroke of genius. Twenty trucks were painted, using paints supplied by Berger Paints, and deployed on various routes. This method has proven to be a simple and elegant solution to a pressing problem. It ticks off all the requisites for a campaign to be successful: it has a defined audience; is socially and culturally relevant through its focus on truck art and the appropriate language; has high penetration and clearly communicates the core message of the campaign.

It pulls in the viewer through its visual aesthetic and establishes emotional connection by engaging them with a precise and simple copy, ‘Erum ko ghar pohchao’, and propels them to act with the Roshni Helpline number painted beside it. Not only has Truck Art Childfinder succeeded in its objective of raising awareness and empowering people to take necessary action in regions where regular media coverage is inefficient, it became a crucial tool for many to file other missing persons’ reports. It only takes one person to find a missing child. Within the first four weeks of its running, twenty trucks had been on the road, 1,105 calls were received from 39 different cities across Pakistan, of which 104 were leads for missing children. As of now, over 5000 calls have been received and so far, eight children have been rescued and reunited. This campaign effectively stands at the intersection of art, design, and activism – a brilliant exhibition of transdisciplinary design. For any product, service, or campaign to make a marked difference, it is imperative that the design aesthetics and language of instruction are inherent to the audience’s sociocultural environment to convey the message. The Truck Art Childfinder campaign has received a fantastic response from the public and even the police. It has stormed the global design community, picking up accolades left, right, and center; winning four Cannes Lions, two Silver and eight Bronze trophies at AdStar, 1 Gold and 1 Silver at Clio, 4 Grand Prix at Dubai Lynx, and 3 D&AD Pencils. 

Zainab Marvi, is a communication designer and illustrator based in Karachi, Pakistan. A graduate of University of Karachi, Marvi currently works with Karachi Biennale as the Design and Marketing Manager where she created the distinct design identity for KB19. She also co-created the ‘A – Z of Feminism’ campaign series for Aurat March 2020. Marvi is the lead Design Instructor of CIRCLE’s ‘Tech Karo’ program, a social enterprise that provides technological training to young girls from underserved communities. Her interests lie in design for social change, systems design, and sustainable innovation with special emphasis on gender and urban ecology.

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