Why 'Dumb Ways to Die' became a viral hit

Humorous animation and a catchy lyric win international awards for an Australian railway public safety ad campaign.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 18, 2013 3:11PM

It's a silly but memorable tune, one you might find yourself singing out loud at inopportune moments, especially given that the song's chorus is "dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die."

But the three-minute animated public-service ad for Melbourne Metro Rail in Australia has become a viral hit. It has also been awarded two of the four top honors -- in the public relations and direct marketing categories -- at the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

"Dumb Ways to Die" handles the topics of being cautious, staying safe and avoiding serious injury or worse around train tracks with a lot of humor. It combines a subversively sunny animation seemingly geared for kids with a catchy, laid-back tune whose lyric lists some truly stupid ways to go, including:
  • Set fire to your hair.
  • Poke a stick at a grizzly bear.
  • Eat medicine that's out of date.
  • Use your private parts as piranha bait.

"The campaign evolved out of discussion with platform staff and drivers who witness people risking their safety around train stations and at level crossings," Leah Waymark, Metro Trains' general manager corporate relations, told News.com.au.Image: Railroad Crossing with Train (© Edmond Van Hoorick/Photodisc/Getty Images)

There are also images and words that deal directly with life-threatening railway scenarios, including:

  • Stand on the edge of a train station platform.
  • Drive around the boom gates at a level crossing.
  • Run across the tracks between the platforms.

Ad agencies are giving the public service announcement kudos.

"It takes what could be a gruesome and depressing message and makes it joyful and shareable and hummable and everything a great ad should be," Matt MacDonald, the chief creative officer with JWT in New York, tells Adweek. "I also appreciate that it gives credit to the audience that they can handle a tongue-in-cheek approach to such a serious issue."

"Dumb Ways to Die" appears to be working as intended. The McCann Melbourne ad agency, which developed the safety campaign, says rail-related accidents in Melbourne were down 20% in the three months after the ad's release.

More on moneyNOW

Jun 18, 2013 3:42PM
The skeleton's easily the cutest of the dead guys.
Jun 18, 2013 4:28PM
Catchy tune and cute animations!  I like it.
Jun 18, 2013 5:30PM
selling both kidneys on the internet is my favourite,  eating a tube of crazy glue is a close second.
Jun 19, 2013 12:44AM
has anyone else gotten the app on the ipad?  fun little game that goes along with the song
Jun 18, 2013 7:57PM
Jun 18, 2013 4:49PM
I'm extremely confused if this is an Australian ad why are they including American animals in the ad or am I really confused and Australia now has moose and grizzly bears?
Jun 19, 2013 12:57AM
That was amazingly fun,catchy and really just a cute song to inform poeople that they need to be more diligent and teach kids that just because something like this sounds fun,it really ins't safe.
Jun 18, 2013 6:25PM
This is my favorite all time commercial.  My whole family sings the catchy little tune.
Jun 18, 2013 10:54PM
Jun 18, 2013 4:05PM
They forgot to add electing Obama as our leader with his penchant for wars. 
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