Dumb Ways to Die

(South Park Studios 1997)

I’ve never really understood the appeal of South Park. Watching a fanciful cohort of cardboard cut-out children try to navigate through an outwardly ugly world, enacting in completely nonsensical, (usually offensive) behaviour with often macabre results.

Yet, it’s been captivating audiences for nearly 20 years, cleverly using morbid humour to raise awareness on important issues ranging from gun control to Trump’s xenophobic rants.

It’s an approach that has been successfully emulated by Melbourne Metro Trains to address a serious problem within their rail network.

Raising awareness to change behaviour

(Mob.org 2014)

Visitors to Melbourne’s Flinders St Station may be surprised to learn that the adorable creatures being happily subjected to traumatic death across its walls, are actually at the core of one of the world’s the most coveted integrated marketing campaigns.

They’ve helped Melbourne Metro Trains raise awareness about the dangers of dumb behaviour ostensibly acted out in the vicinity of their train network, affecting attitudes to bring about changes in behaviour (Iacobucci 2013, p. 147), which led to a significant reduction in injury and death.

How do you deliver a message your audience doesn’t want to hear?

Petty and Cacioppo  (cited in Bitner & Obermiller 1985) described how persuasion through direct messaging is effective when the recipient is motivated and able to process cognitively, the information presented.

But how do you convince your audience to play it safe around trains, when that audience consists of a generation resistant to messages dictating how they should behave?

Making fun of a serious matter

Petty & Cacioppo (1983) explained how inattentive audiences could be swayed into attitudinal change by evoking effective responses to peripheral cues.

But what does that mean?

To put it simply – entice your audience (Dumb ways to die wiki)through appealing features (like adorable Dunce selling both his kidneys on the internet), rather than brusquely telling them what they don’t want to hear (i.e., don’t run across the tracks between the platforms!). Over time, comical Dunce and his fatuous friends will subtly convince them not to run across that platform.

That’s what Metro Trains did. To see the results, watch the video below; You’ll get two-and-a-half minutes of pure entertainment before the real message gets revealed at the end.

The makings of a viral campaign

With a  $300,000 budget, and the goal of raising awareness to reduce train-related injuries by 10% within 12 months, Metro devised a viral marketing campaign intended to spread the message through word of mouth and achieve greater reach amongst its target audience.

Mills (2012) described the keys to a successful viral campaign as SPIN; Spreadable content, Propagated through social media, Integrated across platforms and reinforced through multiple releases of viral content (Nexus)

Dumb Ways to Die was unleashed in 2012,  uploaded first to YouTube, followed by a top 10 iTunes hit song release (2013), and 2 mobile app games – Dumb Ways To Die 1 (2013) and 2 (2014), the latter of which, became the  #1 downloaded app in 83 countries

Bonehead, Doofus, Dimw(Dumb ways to die wiki)it, and Co became internet sensations, generating an estimated $60 million in earned media including ‘free’  coverage across Australian and international TV and radio networks. Most importantly, it slashed trained-related incidents by 21% within 12 months.

Emotional Advertising

(Telegraph UK 2013)

Trying to convince people to change their ways through the use of emotively shocking ads can be risky, with Urwin and Venter’s (2014) finding that the ‘shock’ factor is becoming ‘obsolete and ineffective.’

Berger and Milkman (2012), described how certain high arousal emotions such as amusement or anger, were more likely to be shared than deactivating emotions such as sadness.’ This is mainly attributed to the fact that people prefer to be known for sharing cheerful stories.

Death by train is sad. But rather than follow the same path of many a campaign before them ( Quit Now), Metro Trains chose a different track, raising awareness through emotional advertising , eliciting humour with amusing apps, and a catchy upbeat tune you can’t help but share with your friends.

If you haven’t heard it yet, I dare you to listen and then try to forget it.

 Angela Colantuono; Student Id 216002314; acolantu@deakin.edu.au

Further Reading

Berger, J & Milkman, K 2012, ‘What Makes Online Content Viral?’,  Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 192-205, DOI: 10.1509/jmr.10.0353.

Best Marketing EU,. nd, Case Study: Metro Trains’ Dumb Ways to Die , retrieved 5th May 2016, <http://www.best-marketing.eu/case-study-metro-trains-dumb-ways-to-die/>.

Bilsten, J 2015, ‘South Park’ Murders ‘Brash A–hole’ Donald Trump, Rolling Stone Magazine, retrieved 5th May 2016, <http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/south-park-murders-brash-a–hole-donald-trump-20150924>.

Bitner M.J, Obermiller C, 1985,’The Elaboration Likelihood Model: Limitations and Extensions in Marketing’, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 420-425.

Dumb Ways to Die, nd, Dumb Ways to Die, Dumb Ways to Die, retrieved 5th May 2016, <http://www.dumbwaystodie.com/>

Effie Awards, 2013, Australian Effie Awards Entry No 95, Effie Awards, retrieved 26thApril 2016, <http://effies.com.au/attachments/Bronze/Short%20term%20effects/Entry%2095%20DWTD%20O%20Short%20Term%20Effectiveness.pdf>.

Iacobucci, D 2013, MM4 Marketing Management, 6th Edition, Cengage Learning, Mason USA.

Mills, A 2012, ‘Virality in social media: the SPIN Framework’, Journal of Public Affairs , vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 162–169, DOI: 10.1509/jmr.10.0353.

MSN, 2015, South Park takes on gun control issue in new episode, MSN.com, retrieved 5thMay 2016, <http://www.msn.com/en-us/video/news/south-park-takes-on-gun-control-issue-in-new-episode/vi-AAgfEfF>.

Ong. T 2013, Quirky ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign sweeps advertising awards, Reuters, retrieved 5th May 2016, <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-advertising-die-idUSBRE95N03L20130624>.

Pathak, S 2013, How Music Propelled the Most Popular Campaign of the Year: McCann’s ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, retrieved 5th May 2016, <http://adage.com/article/special-report-music-and-marketing/numbers-mccann-s-dumb-ways-die-campaign/244455/>.

Petty, RE, Cacioppo, JT, & Schumann, D 1983, ‘Central and Peripheral Routes to Advertising Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Involvement’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 135-146.

Urwin, B, Venter, M 2014, ‘Shock Advertising: Not So Shocking Anymore. An Investigation among Generation Y’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 5, no 21, DOI:10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n21p203.



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