VML turned a missing child into the most searched-for Belgian in the world

UPDATE - Antwerp, 3 june 2024

Thibaut Courtois is missing. This is the very striking message of a new campaign VML launched for Child Focus on May 25th, the International Day for Missing Children. The message appeared on top of a missing person notice of Liam Vanden Branden, a child that went missing in Belgium. For the campaign, Liam’s father applied for a new name for his son. Not just any name, but the name of the most searched-for Belgian online: Thibaut Courtois, the famous goalkeeper of Real Madrid. Thanks to a targeted Google Ads campaign, Belgians who search for his new name, now also get to see the missing person notice, making more people search for a missing child. In this way, the agency wants to revive the search for Liam. Because every testimony is precious and can help find him.


A search campaign with a twist

Every month, thousands of people search via Google and YouTube for Thibaut Courtois, while only a few search for Liam Vanden Branden. However, Liam is a missing child, and it is important that as many people as possible keep looking for him. In a new campaign for Child Focus, the Belgian Center for Missing Children, Liam's father therefore requested a new name for his son: Thibaut Courtois. Through targeted search ads, Belgians who search for his new name via Google or YouTube also get to see his search message. In this way, people searching for Thibaut are helping to find Liam.

A name many people are looking for

Liam did not just get a famous name; his new name is massively searched for on the internet. In fact, Thibaut Courtois is currently the most searched-for Belgian in the world. Certainly, the news about a new documentary on Amazon Prime about the goalkeeper's recovery and the fuss about his non-selection for the European Championship increased the searches. Additionally, his Champions League comeback and winning the final with Real Madrid caused a tremendous spike in searches for his name.


A name change for more attention

For the name change, Liam’s father submitted an application to the Federal Public Service for Justice. Nobody counts on an official approval, but the symbolic value behind this action is of much greater significance. "A name is the first thing you give to a child. Therefore, we think it is very important to keep drawing attention to long-term missing children and to keep telling their story. The slightest tip, no matter how minute that chance may seem, can lead to a breakthrough. So, we must not give up hope and must always keep looking," says Nel Broothaerts of Child Focus.

More than 5 million views in just one week

The campaign was launched just one week ago, and Thibaut’s search message was posted on his Instagram account. The message caused confusion for a lot of people, but this gave it the attention it needed. People who clicked through to the campaign site understood why their idol's name had suddenly been reported missing. In total, more than 4 million people already watched the search message via Instagram alone, and with that, an important goal has already been achieved. "I would do anything to get answers about what happened to Liam. That's why it's important that Liam continues to get attention. Because if that attention disappears, so does hope," says Dirk Vanden Branden, Liam's dad.


Eye-catching campaign with important purpose

In addition to the search campaign running on YouTube and Google, the campaign is also spread just like any other search message. Thibaut's missing person notice will appear on digital billboards in railway stations, on screens in shops and trains, and spread via social media. The striking name alone will ensure that these messages, which sometimes can go unnoticed, will now get the attention they deserve. Finally, a campaign film was also made showing Liam’s father during his visit to the Federal Public Service for Justice. This can be seen on social media and on the campaign sites.



  • Client: Child Focus 
  • Client contact: Stephan Smets, Stéphanie Leyn, Selyna Ayuso Ferrandiz 
  • Agency: VML Belgium
  • Chief Creative Officer: Klaartje Galle 
  • Executive Creative Directors: Kasper Janssens, Arjen Tarras
  • Creatives: Tomas Van Loon, Patrick Vermeylen 
  • Strategy: Jef Pelkmans, Gaëlle Maes
  • Media strategy: Zachary Jepsen, Koen Speelmeijer
  • Account team: Pieter Van Schil, Molly Waeytens 
  • Designers: Timothy Helmer, Sofie Luyckx
  • Copywriters: Yves Donceel, Gavin Watt
  • Developers: Sam Serrien, Stijn Van Minnebruggen, Bram Verdyck
  • Head of RTV: Ingeborg Van Hoof
  • Agency Producers: Thomas Anthoni
  • Motion design: Mikael Naudet
  • Sound design: Menno Van Riet
  • Director: Lieven Bulckens
  • DOP: Rik Zang
  • Gaffer: Theo Fernandez



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