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CASE STUDY: Dumb Ways To Die
Dumb Ways to Die: a powerful message, packaged as an eye-catching public service announcement (PSA) with cute and whimsical characters.
While many Melburnians will have seen the imagery displayed in their city’s train stations, this is only a glimpse of its true impact.
It’s the world’s most shared PSA, and the most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (5 Grand Prix and 28 Lions).
The bottom line? Dumb Ways to Die is one of the most successful campaigns of the 21st century.
In 2012, Metro Trains was dealing with frequent incidents and injuries involving stations and crossings. With the objective of drawing attention to the risks around trains, it soon became clear that the younger demographic had to be their main focus.
The issue? Engaging young public transport users in a way that would make the message stick.
Traditional safety campaigns had been simple and informative, meant to be instantly digested by the viewer. For this campaign, Metro needed to take a different route: a campaign that would encourage interaction and response.
That’s where Melbourne agency McCann stepped in to provide some much needed creative flair.
“We decided to not adopt an advertising model, but a content model. Both the client and the agency were very determined to make the content good enough to compete against things you would otherwise pay for.”
McCann started with four prime objectives:
- Increase public awareness.
- Generate a media buzz around rail safety.
- Create a commitment to be safe around trains.
- Reduce the number of accidents and near misses at stations and level crossings.
Taking an alternative approach to the usual PSA model, McCann came up with the core idea of ‘Dumb Ways to Die’: a song that would flip all established PSA jingles on their head.
This song would prove popular enough to enter the pop culture zeitgeist, sparking a plethora of parodies, from Russian covers to hard rock remixes. More importantly, the lyrics were designed to be catchy, self-aware and loaded with dark humour to make it utterly distinct from jingles with a similar message.
The music video would build upon the elements of the core idea, depicting the recklass actions of colourful bean-people as they met their demise in a host of colourful, creative ways.
Building upon the initial idea, Dumb Ways to Die found its way into all kinds of media beyond the original song and music video:
- Online games. These were made to appeal to a younger audience, introducing the core safety messages early.
- Print ads and billboards. These were placd across the Metro trains network (including karaoke videos playing at stations) and major newspapers, reinforcing the messages right where they were needed most.
- Children’s books, distributed at schools across the state.
The idea flourished with the solid foundation of the target demographic.
McCann realised that it would’ve been useless to create another standard, fear-mongering rail safety advertising campaign. Forced to tear up the regular playbook, the campaign instead focused on challenging the younger demographic’s feeling of “invincibility” around trains.
With a specific focus on socials and games, McCann knew exactly where the target demographic would respond most positively to the message. The song became a viral hit, highly shareable, with memetic characters and lyrics that came across as real, authentic and worthy of notice.
Ultimately, the impact of Dumb Ways to Die produced was largely due to the carefully devised integrated marketing campaign, as well as using the perfect combination of platforms for maximum reach.
Dumb Ways to Die is easily one of the most effective advertising campaigns of the past century.
The PSA achieved a pledge from 127 million people to be safer around trains, as well as a 10-20% reduction in train-related accidents as of February the following year.
The campaign itself received an unexpected swell of attention, resulting in a stellar international reach and a ton of industry awards:
- Dumb Ways to Die is still the most awarded campaign in history, with 28 Cannes Lions and 5 Grand Prix.
- ‘Dumb Ways to Die 2: The Games’ was the number one app in 90 countries.
- Within 24 hours of launch, the Dumb Ways to Die song was ranked in the iTunes top 10. In just 48 hours it became number 6 in the singer/songwriter category globally.
What’s the Takeaway?
Metro could’ve taken a safe, standard path to communicating their message – but it may have completely failed to reach their intended audience.
Here are the lessons we can learn from the success of Dumb Ways to Die:
- Message and method are equal. Got the world’s most important message? That’s great… but it means nothing if you can’t get people to listen. The way you reach people is just as important as what you want them to know.
- Understand your audience. The method all depends on who you need to reach. Demographics consume media in a thousand different ways. Your medium and platform are paramount.
- In a rut? Refresh and break out of the norm. Every single successful campaign in history has one thing in common: creativity. As always, it’s the easiest piece of advice to give, and the hardest to follow. However, reaching a new audience will always mean flipping your rulebook on its head and trying something that’ll force people to pay attention, purely by virtue of being different.