The Missing People charity is converting standard photos released by families into 3D images complete with smiling faces on billboards across London.
Behavioural scientists say the changes make it more likely passers-by will engage and come forward to report sightings.
The new-look posters will appear at Canary Wharf and the two Westfield shopping centres in White City and Stratford from Wednesday.
After a decade of the old format, perhaps the most noticeable difference is the absence of the word “missing” which has been replaced with a more active phrase “help find”.
According to researchers, the public will engage when presented with a clear call to action.
Some 70,000 children and young people are reported missing every year in the UK
Alexander Sloley, 16, who vanished in 2008 from Islington, north London is one of the first to feature.
Billboard with Alexander Sloley, 16, at Westfield
Another Leah Croucher, 19, went missing in Milton Keynes in 2019. Finn Layland-Stratfield, 17, of Tintagel, Cornwall hasn’t been seen since 2017.
Claire Croucher, Leah’s mother, said: “Seeing Leah’s face move and smile on these amazing new posters is wonderful and gives us renewed hope that Leah – and other missing people like her – will be reunited with their families.”
The new posters were unveiled to mark Missing Children’s Day and the format will be used by the charity for all posters moving forward.
They also include a QR code to encourage passers-by to tap into social media and spread the word among their networks.
The academic research on which the new posters are based was compiled by behavioural research experts Influence at Work, led by Steve Martin, faculty director of behavioural science at Columbia University’s Graduate Business School.
Behavioural science consultant Anita Braga said: “Very often people do want to act, but they feel like they don’t have the means to, they feel a bit overwhelmed by the situation maybe, and so we’re telling them ‘help us’ find rather than ‘missing’.
“Giving a clear call to action is a way to make them feel empowered and also feel empathy towards the person they’re looking for.
“And then the second thing is the image – we really worked on improving the image clarity and to give the feeling that there is actually a person behind that picture.”
Jo Youle, chief executive of Missing People, said: “When it is appropriate to publicise someone’s disappearance, our appeals are a hugely important way to reach the public, to help find children.
“By embracing innovation, we hope the new appeals will have an even greater impact and lead to those featured being found safely.”
The photos used on the posters were initially enhanced by Engine Creative in collaboration with Untold Studios using machine learning software, then animated using pioneering AI technology developed by D-ID.
Rachel Maclean, minister for safeguarding, said: “It is a tragedy for any child to go missing, and sadly it is often the most vulnerable.
“My priority is to keep everyone safe. That is why we are working with the National Police Chief’s Council, National Crime Agency and across Government to improve the response of frontline services, and to reduce the risk posed to those who sadly do go missing.
“This revolutionary technology is an incredibly powerful and impactful way of ensuring that the faces of those who are missing are seen by all, and will help increase the chances of those missing being found and returned home safely.”