I have long been a critic of “public service” advertising. In my view, after 25 years in the advertising and marketing business, it is largely boring, tedious, un-impactful, and ineffective.

Sometimes, though, it seems the creative teams involved become  truly inspired by the importance of what they are doing: which is, of course, changing attitudes.

Check this out. This new little animated spot has been created by Metro Trains in Melbourne*.

I am just dumbstruck by how clever it is, how brilliantly focused and targeted (given that teenagers and young adults would be the primary audience), and how the message remains with you long after you’ve seen it. I know I will remember it whenever I am anywhere around a train, and I sincerely hope they reinforce the “dumb ways to die” message at “point of sale”,  that is to say, at stations and level crossings.

Another point. At three minutes long, it gives the viewer plenty of time to digest the message in a low-stress, humorous manner. The mood it inculcates in the viewer will increase the effectiveness of the message. It is not generally possible, of course, to deliver a three minute message on TV. So this is a super use of new media to get a story across in a meaningful, powerful manner. It’s been viewed 5 million times is 6 days on YouTube. Huzzah.

Regular readers of Wellthisiswhatithink will also notice that – although vastly different in tone and style – it uses the same brilliant insight into its target audience, and many of the same understandings, as this innovative pro-condom ad from France, that I have glowingly written about before.

I was also reminded of the famous Grim Reaper campaign from 1987 in Australia. It certainly pulled no punches. And though it is easy, in retrospect, to criticise its creative content as now somewhat dated, its overall strategy (or even  its medical accuracy), and the climate of near-hysteria it created at the time, there is no question that it dramatically reduced the ongoing incidence of HIV infection – Australia has one of the best performances in preventing HIV transmission in the world.

Another brilliantly successful campaign has been the Victorian campaign by the Transport Accident Commission against road trauma. Over the years it has created much controversial comment – it is just so damn difficult to watch some of the ads – but it has also undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, too, especially since they started putting up billboards to drive home the message as well. (A decision in which I played a small and hitherto unknown role, of which I am proud.)

Anyhow, I defy anyone to watch this spot – just one of dozens and dozens over the years – and not re-think their decision to drive home after a few drinks this Christmas.

Be safe out there.

So – takes a deep breath – sometimes, public service advertising gets it very right. Bravo to all concerned.

Now if only our political and social masters would demand standards as high as this for ALL public service advertising, instead of the anodyne, committee-squashed over-safe crap we usually get, then I might not mind paying my taxes quite as much.


For those interested in the genesis of the “Dumb Ways To Die” campaign, it’s strategy (which I am glad to say I divined correctly) and more information on it generally, this story ran in Ad News in Australia today:

With Metro Train’s ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ video now swelling to 12 million views on YouTube, both the agency and the brand have hinted at a possible sequel to the popular animated push.

The video, which shows animated characters exploring various ways to die, had amassed over 12.7 million hits (as of midday on 21 November 2012) since its 16 November launch, while its theme song has entered both the local and international Top 10 iTunes charts.

It was created by McCann and is part of a broader campaign aimed at the under 25’s currently spanning across several platforms. McCann executive creative director John Mescall said that while he wasn’t able to divulge all the details, a follow-up to the campaign may be on the cards.

He told AdNews: “Both Metro and McCann have been working together to make sure that Metro’s customers enjoy the advertising, and this is the latest campaign in a progression of this theme.

“While commercial confidences mean I can’t say exactly what we’ll be doing with this campaign in the future, we definitely won’t stop trying to inform Metro’s customers in an entertaining way.”

Meanwhile, Metro Trains hinted it may continue to use irreverent ads in the future and explore non-traditional marketing themes thanks to greater brand awareness and consumer sentiment.

It also admitted the approach wouldn’t have worked for the brand in the past and wasn’t suitable for all companies.

General manager corporate relations Leah Waymark said: “We’ve had a unique opportunity to establish a brand from scratch over the past three years and the evolution of the brand is now at a point where we have very strong operational performance and an improved customer experience, so we can take greater risks in our marketing approach.

“A light-hearted animation and song would not work for all brands and would not have worked for the Metro brand eighteen months ago.”

Waymark also said the campaign’s position on digital was “critical, especially when targeting the under 25 market and commuters”.

Metro Trains added it wasn’t worried about the campaign’s light-hearted portrayal of death and said it was hopeful its message will resonate with youth.

“Some people might have an issue with us making light of what is a serious topic, but if we can save one life or avoid serious injury, then that’s how we’ll measure the success of this campaign,” Waymark said.

“We set out to find an innovative way to reach young people who see themselves as indestructible. We felt images of body bags were more likely to have an impact on their parents, so we wanted to engage with young people in a way we think they might appeal to them a bit more.”

Waymark also said that while the brand was expecting some success, it wasn’t predicting nearly 12 million YouTube hits.

“We’re not surprised that this campaign has been well received but you can never predict the speed and take-up which, in this case, has been amazing.

“Importantly, we can see from feedback being posted that the safety message is not being lost which is great news.”

Mescall said: “We knew it’d get shared because it had the perfect mix of contentiousness and likeability. But you don’t expect 10 million views in five days.

“The fact that the whole thing feels joyfully subversive is probably the key to its success. The idea, the lyrics, the music and the animation are all equally important.”

Its song was produced by Australian keyboardist and Cat Empire member Ollie McGill and sung by Melbourne-based artist Tangerine Kitty. A special well done to them them – it’s a great piece of creative work.

Yesterday, leading creatives praised the video as a strong piece of branded content.

  1. Francis Glibbery says:

    Another fascinating blog, for which much thanks!

    Two things occur to me.

    First, three of the spots you mention are from Australia and I’m thinking: “Could we ever see ads like these in England, or is Blighty not quite ready for the ‘brash’, ‘open’ style that must, surely, stem from Australian culture?” I say this because, over the years, I’ve seen other ads from Oz that have seemed daring and brash!

    The second is that “Dumb Ways To Die” has the most amazingly catchy and melodic soundtrack, which – allied to the charming animation – makes for an ad that really does lodge in the brain. Great work from the creative people, and chapeau to a brave client.


    • Thanks Francis – I must say that ads as good as these are rare in Australia too. The road trauma ones have been copied elsewhere, such as in South Africa.

      There seems to be a real reluctance to use really powerful, impact full advertising for public service ads, and I am sure it is 90% timidity on the client side and 10% craven submission on the agency side. So I agree with you – in these cases, well done client! Maybe there should be creativity awards for clients, too, eh?


  2. lionelsnod says:

    Dumb ways to die is pretty close to genius. It will be viewed and remembered by pretty much the entire spectrum of the population. As Francis said, with the catchy & melodic soundtrack & charming animation it is quite impactful. Thanks for a great post & for sharing.

    Paul R.Hewlett


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