Campaign: The franchise owner of Melbourne’s suburban railway network, Metro Trains Melbourne, bagged several Cannes Lions awards, including Grand Prix accolades in Direct, PR, Film and Integrated, for its “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign to raise awareness of train safety.
Via McCann Erickson, Melbourne, the campaign featured an animated video showing a range of cartoon characters dying in careless ways, such as placing a fork in the toaster or ignoring a stop sign at a level crossing. The theme tune to the video also could be streamed on Soundcloud or purchased via the iTunes store.
On the campaign’s microsite, visitors could press a red button to pledge, “I solemnly swear to not do dumb stuff around trains.” The campaign spanned online, press, radio, and out-of home advertising, and also included a dedicated Tumblr site containing GIFs from the video. Since the campaign was launched in November, it has been made into a mobile game.
FleishmanHillard’s McNeel Weighs In
John McNeel: Okay, so by now everyone knows: Content is king, shareability rules. It’s not about how smart you can make your strategy or how targeted your audience planning is; more and more, it’s about the intrinsic value of the “vessel” that carries your story. Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium IS the message.
“Dumb Ways to Die” is about as engaging and shareable as content comes. But what made it rise to the top to garner not one, not two, but five Grand Prix awards at Cannes this year (including for PR)? Should it have gotten the attention and kudos it did?
Cannes rewards creativity and originality above all else, but it is also about effective communication. “Dumb Ways” was a serious message aimed at an audience that has little patience for being serious. What made it creative—deciding to use a catchy tune and South Park-like animation to playfully talk about all the ways you might end up meeting a premature demise—was also what made this piece of content effective and worthy of recognition.
There are four “lessons” we can learn from “Dumb Ways”:
1) Re-imagine the client brief. It was a pretty straightforward ask from the railway system: Reduce casualties among teens from silly behavior around trains. But in this case, the creative team decided to look at the broader context: Teens can feel invincible and that leads to all kinds of crazy conduct and, sometimes, sad consequences.
2) Don’t be afraid to bend the rules. It takes some “guts” to combine colorful cartoon characters and bouncy jingles with gore and mayhem. Here the juxtaposition worked.
3) Mention your client’s name only when you’re sure people are paying attention. Well, this may be a little facetious. But you get the point. You had to wait two minutes into the “Dumb Ways” video before you learned what it was all about.
4) Craft is important. How we tell our stories, the magic we weave, the worlds we create, the way music, pictures and mood combine do make a difference. We’re living in an attention-deficit world, and brilliant execution often drives engagement.
Finally one might ask, how could the same campaign win the top award for Direct, Radio, Integrated, Film and PR? As we stretch the definitions, old labels become increasingly irrelevant. What really matters is connecting with audiences in meaningful ways.
At its core, the “traditional” business of public relations has always been about just that—building strong relations with different publics. With 50 million views on YouTube, 450,000 pledges, and even hundreds of cover versions and parodies garnering 20 million views, “Dumb Ways” obviously connected in a big way.