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June 29, 2017

Catchy Campaigns – Dumb Ways to Die

In 2012, a public service announcement (PSA) was released on YouTube and iTunes by Metro Trains and McCann (advertising agency) to promote rail safety. The Dumb Ways to Die PSA steered away from the typical PSA approach, such as TV, radio, and newspapers etc; YouTube became the platform to allow the people (or viewer) to take control of dissemination through ‘sharing’. Public awareness and interest was generated in a way that the PSA was captivating and amusing, hence people wanted to ‘share’ the rail safety message; and it is evident why this campaign was very successful:

  • The tune is catchy. When has a PSA been circulated in a way to provoke public interest in the form of a jingle? Does anyone associate an upbeat melody with boring topics, such as public safety? No, hence why this campaign has work and appealed to the masses – it’s different.
  • Visually and lyrically, the theme is morbid, offbeat and eccentric. Black humour or dark comedy has become socially acceptable when it’s presented in the right manner. Throughout history, many have poked light at dark times, as it is a way of getting a point across without causing negative emotion. As Mary Hirsch (a writer and teacher of humourous writing) once wrote, “Humour is a rubber sword—it allows you to make a point without drawing blood”.
  • The characters are somewhat cute, and the animation is colourful and simple. However, doesn’t this then contradict the theme? It does, but what does it matter? The PSA captivated interest, public awareness and engagement – the intent of the campaign.
  • Lastly, the graphics have no genders, race/ethnicity or age-based stereotypes, and is therefore appealing to the global market.

Shortly after the release of the campaign on YouTube and iTunes, a game for iOS and Android devices was created.  The entertaining and addictive game used the same design, dark humour and underlying message as the original campaign. The game soon ranked highly in various app store, which then led to the opening of an online retail store for plush toys, catering to demand in the younger market. Metro Trains and McCann created content for distribution via multiple channels, as well as a franchise which now consists of games, various videos on the Dumb Ways to Die YouTube channel, a plush toy collection, and two new safety programs. One being directed at the toddler demographic, called Dumb Ways JR; and the second, which involves Regional Transportation District in Denver CO USA partnering with the Dumb Ways to Die franchise to encourage public transport users to take the safety pledge.

Because this campaign was unlike anything else at the time of its release, it worked in a way that was unexpected.  To date, it has had over 120 million views on YouTube, won countless awards, has reached a world-wide audience via a variety of platforms (including iTunes) and has since become the most successful Public Service Announcement…. And this is all thanks to some cute characters, a catchy tune and dark comedy, and of course an ingenious marketing campaign.

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