Iconic Ads: Metro Melbourne – Dumb Ways to Die

Metro Melbourne – Dumb Ways to Die was advertising that was treated like a single, targeting youth who did stupid & dangerous acts on trains

At Metro Trains Melbourne, there was an unusual and serious condition. People, particularly young people, had been seen behaving erratically around trains, with some resulting in injury and death.

They came to McCann Melbourne with a simple brief for an awareness campaign that would encourage people to be more cautious. The task was difficult, though, because the traditional adage of “Don’t do this or that!” doesn’t work with this audience. Because this generation is resistant to advertising, especially when it tells them how to behave, a unique method was required to modify their behaviour in this circumstance.

In terms of creative production, Metro knew exactly what they didn’t want. They didn’t want to scare people, as prior safety campaigns have done in the past.

In 2012, McCann was on a roll. They had won numerous honours and were well-known around the world for their advertising.

The fundamental insight supplied to the McCann team was that being hit by a train was difficult. They don’t veer off the tracks and collide with you. As a result, if you are hit, it’s because you did something stupid.

They were also told that young people are not afraid of death but are afraid of looking stupid.

Advertising’s aim was to make this type of behaviour uncool.

John Mescall, Pat Baron, and Adrian Mills were among the members of the team. “I simply see kids doing dumb stuff,” one of the frontline security/safety guards at the platforms told John and Adrian.

That sparked the imagination.

Metro also shared footage of such insanity, with mothers rushing into carriages with babies, and so on.

The concepts were developed by John and Pat. The initial concepts were unappealing. They understood the importance of striking the right balance when using humour to convey a scary or legal issue. It was something along the lines of “I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.”

Pat called the client (Chloe) and told her that they had come up with a great idea and it was a song. Chloe was surprised and wanted to put the phone down.

The song’s foundation was built on John’s lyrics. Even though he had never written songs before, he wrote the lines in two to three hours!

McCann also made it clear that this wouldn’t be treated like any other commercial or jingle. They treated it as if it were a single, a song that could be purchased.  It was legit entertainment

They looked for musicians who were unaffected by advertising and landed on individuals who had never done a jingle before.

The Cat Empire’s keyboardist and vocalist, Ollie McGill, was contacted. Ollie did a double-take as he noticed the lines John had written. The lines were all different lengths and sounded completely insane.

Ollie eventually composed the music and enlisted the help of his friend Emily Lubitz, lead singer and guitarist for Tinpan Orange. Emily used the pseudonym Tangerine Kitty” (a reference to Tinpan Orange and The Cat Empire).[ for the singing credits since she didn’t want her name to be mentioned, least expecting what the response would be.

Because McCann had always treated it as a song, the next step was to release it as a single. They went to great lengths to do this, including signing up with radio stations and even convincing iTunes to accept it. Because it was the rule, iTunes declared that customers had to pay for this song. It’s ironic that people pay for advertisements. Even the cover was meant to look like a record label.

In parallel, the animation was also done to bring out a film, just like what happens to songs.

The video was art directed by Patrick Baron, animated by Julian Frost and produced by Cinnamon Darvall. It featured “Numpty, Hapless, Pillock, Dippy, Dummkopf, Dimwit, Stupe, Lax, Clod, Doomed, Numskull, Bungle, Mishap, Dunce, Calamity, Ninny, Botch, Doofus, Stumble, Bonehead and Putz” killing themselves with stupidity

Things were going according to plan when one of the publications called up to say that the video had leaked and they would write a story about it. McCann and Metro had to fast forward the launch. 

They released it much before the story was published. 

And it was a huge success all across the world. It quickly went viral. In just a few days, it picked up millions of views. 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. At last count, it was seen 224 million times on Youtube in the official version. There were numerous languages, parodies, and other variations. There were also video games, which were extremely popular.

According to Metro Trains, the campaign contributed to a more than 30% reduction in “near-miss” accidents, from 13.29 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2011 – January 2012, to 9.17 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2012 – January 2013.

All for dumb ways to die!

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