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Campaign of the Week: Dumb ways to die

By Kag Katumba 28 Sep, 2018

How Melbourne Metro made a public service video marketing ad creative instead of doom and gloom

In 2012 Melbourne Metro needed to promote rail safety in a campaign that had to resonate with their rail users in a video marketing campaign. It was something that would usually take the form of an informative safety display ad which would not envoke much of an active response from viewers. Not this time.

dumb ways to die

The Play

McCann, Metro's agency, decided to go down the route of entertainment, writing some hilarious lyrics to a song about all the dumb ways to die—such as poking a grizzly bear, selling both your kidneys on the internet or using your privates as piranha bait—to underline the message that you need to be safe around trains because one of the dumbest ways to die is to get hit by one.

The resulting song, recorded by Tangerine Kitty, launched via iTunes, radio, YouTube and more. Within 24 hours of its launch in November 2012, the “Dumb Ways to Die” song reached the top 10 chart of iTunes. But it was the YouTube video that really sealed this campaign’s fate.

The video was animated by Julian Frost and produced by Cinnamon Darvall. It was uploaded to YouTube on 14 November 2012 and made public two days later. It featured "Numpty, Hapless, Pillock, Dippy, Dummkopf, Dimwit, Stupe, Lax, Clod, Doomed, Numskull, Bungle, Mishap, Dunce, Calamity, Ninny, Botch and Doofus killing themselves in increasingly stupid ways" culminating in the last three characters (Stumble, Bonehead and Putz) being killed by trains due to unsafe behavior.

It was viewed 2.5 million times within 48 hours and 4.7 million times within 72 hours. Within two weeks, the video had been viewed 30 million times. As of September 2018, the video has received over 170 million views.

The evolution

The campaign became an untameable beast as it became a global sensation. A dedicated Tumblr page also accompanied the campaign which pushed the PSA to go viral. It became the Internet’s most shared video in 2012. Radio advertising also played a roll in spreading the message, which was so successful radio stations started playing the song for free.

As the song gained so much attention and momentum, the PSA was further expanded to include train station/public posters and billboards, a children’s book and a website where people could ‘make the pledge’ to be safe around train stations.

Nearly all aspects of the campaign pushed people towards the website where they could push the button and make the pledge to train safety. This was implemented to try and actively change people’s behaviour, rather than stop at a public message.

The campaign also included user participation through a smartphone app.

The outcome

The campaign was wildly successful. Various covers were produced by different artists and the song was used in school as an effective method for teaching safety. But more importantly, following the campaign, Metro Trains found a 21% reduction in train station incidents (Brand News, 2013). While it is hard to attribute this result directly to the campaign, it is a positive statistic that does help argue that the campaign has been effective.

“Dumb Ways to Die” was named the best campaign of the decade at this year’s Asia-Pacific Tambuli Awards. And for good reason. What started off as a lighthearted message about staying safe around Melbourne, Australia’s commuter system trains has morphed into a entertainment property with 200 million app downloads, a quarter of billion video views, and 3 billion unique game plays.

“Dumb Ways to Die” has inspired other regional safety campaigns and has certainly reached an audience larger than the small creative team at Metro Trains Melbourne ever dreamed of in 2012.

By Kag Katumba

I am the Marketing Executive at Smart Insights, heading up our Free Memberships and Content Partnerships. I've amassed 5 years of industry experience which keeps me on the pulse of all things marketing and digital. Feel free to connect with me at Linkedin

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