It is one of the catchiest tunes to ever hit the interwebs. It has some of the cutest (and most disturbing) visuals I have seen. It was the most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes, receiving 28 Lions and including five Grand Prix.
And it is a Public Service Announcement about safety around trains. From Melbourne. In Australia.
Hell, I’m FROM Australia and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the popularity of this campaign. The only thing I can guarantee is how dumb it would be NOT to learn more about Dumb Ways to Die.
Wait. I think that came out wrong…
In the Beginning
In case you have been living under a rock for the last five years (which probably would count as a dumb way to die…), Dumb Ways to Die started off as a PSA to encourage safety around trains in Melbourne. Now, I remember the original PSA provided to Melbourne Year 6 students way back in the 1980s. I don’t remember it because it was spectacular; I remember it because it was typical of many PSAs in Australia at the time (eg. the fearful AIDS campaign, with Death/Grim Reaper going ten-pin-bowling for souls—Australian ad campaigns in the 1980s and early-1990s have a LOT of explaining to do).
In 2012, Metro Trains Melbourne decided to take a different approach. THANK YOU!!! The new PSA safety message was meant to be interesting and engaging. They took the approach of doing something quirky with a catchy tune and cartoon deaths, focusing on the idea of being… well, dumb.
Within a week of launch on YouTube, it was viral: over 20 million views.
Why Did It Work
Dumb Ways to Die had a great display at PAX Australia 2017, which gave me the opportunity to ask them this exact same question.
Leah Waymark (CEO of Dumb/Chief Corporate Relations and Business Development Officer at Metro Trains Melbourne) had all the reasons and explanations, but even she was pleasantly surprised with HOW well it worked.
“The brief was simply we didn’t want to frighten people. We had seen all of these PSAs and workplace safety campaigns based on fear. We had worked so hard to rebuild the trust in the rail network with trains running on time and services provided. We wanted something that invited people on to the trains; not scaring them off.”
If It Works, Work With It
One of the key aims of the campaign was to see a reduction of near misses and accidents at level crossings and station platforms over 12 months by 10 percent.
The problem is then how to measure its effectiveness. Leah explained: “Dumb Ways to Die is a behavioral campaign and part of a bigger picture. There are so many moving parts.”
And she’s right. A campaign like this attracts attention, and subsequently more scrutiny on any safety stats available. You also have changes in timetables, change in infrastructure, change in patronage; if you have a campaign inviting more people to use or return to the trains, you already changing the factors you are working with. While Metro Rail Melbourne has seen a drop in accidents around stations and level crossings, they are reluctant to attribute this achievement directly to the Dumb Ways campaign.
Where to From Here
The original message is still popular, but the winning strategy has been in how they maintain momentum. The artists used in the video are also video game designers… Ahhh, I see what you did there.
The first game app, Dumb Ways to Die, was released in 2013. It was a huge hit across the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Dumb Ways to Die: The Games was released in 2014 and continued the message. Inspired by the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the second game has over 75 million downloads. It’s global… well, except for Russia. It was banned in Russia. *shrug*
Recently they introduced Dumb Ways JR, a spin-off aimed at a younger audience to promote safety around the home and on public transport. They also promoted a Virtual Reality game at PAX Australia based around protecting Botch from all of the dangers while camping. Things like putting a safety vest on Botch to make him more visible during hunting season and picking him up and moving him away from the fire. And yes—there were plenty of patrons who took the opportunity to throw poor Botch off the nearby cliff.
Now, you have to remember: this was a Public Safety Announcement for Rail Safety. It was never intended to be video game development or number one on the iTunes list. The popularity of this is just insane, and a lot of fun. Listening to Leah talk about the project, “fun” seems to be the secret to keeping it alive.
“We try to have fun with it ourselves. We like to include celebrations and festivities, such as Halloween and Talk Like a Pirate Day–even Star Wars events. We are still focused on rail safety, but we can have some fun doing it too.”
I’ll be honest: I was not an early-days convert. I was still experiencing trauma-hangover from the original safety campaigns. Since PAX Aus, I have definitely changed my opinion. The tune is catchy; the characters are quirky. Kids do pay attention to the message: it has been a great conversation starter in our household and a hit with the 11-year-old and eight-year-old. The four-year-old understands the concept, but I think she is more suited to Dumb Ways JR.
As a campaign, it has been effective in reaching the masses and delivering the message. Now I can be part of the message too! Metro Trains Melbourne has given GeekMom two (2) gifts to pass on to our readers
- For Australian readers: We have one (1) “Botch” plush toy and one (1) Dumb Ways to Die book, based on the song
- For our readers anywhere else in the world: We have one (1) Dumb Ways to Die book, based on the song.
To enter, just follow the Rafflecopter details below. Competition closes on November 13, 2017, at midnight Australian time.
The mobile games are also available for free on both iOS and Android. Remember: It is still a PSA and safety campaign for a rail service. If it saves one life, anywhere in the world, then it is worth it.
GeekMom received the giveaways directly from Metro Rail Melbourne. No further endorsement was received. In fact, we’re still considering this as compensation for having the song on constant repeat in Evil Genius Mum’s head for the weekend of PAX Australia. And if she infects the rest of us with this earworm, we will consider all suggestions of punishment within the theme of dumb ways to die. Leave your ideas in the comments.
UPDATE: We have winners to announce
Yeah, yeah. I know I’m late. But big thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway, and extra special thanks to those who shared around. Y’all are special minions.
Our Australian winner is: Teleri Holton
Our ‘everywhere else in the world’ winner is: Kimberly Rampersad
Emails are heading out to these lovely people; if you haven’t received an email from Evil Genius Mum directly by the end of the week, just buzz us here in the comments.
In the meantime, Dumb Ways to Die is still going strong globally so keep an eye out for this public service announcement in a town near you. Next stop: Denver, Colorado!!