Melbourne Metro’s “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign launched in 2012 as a concerted effort to reduce injury and death around Metro trains and stations. This PSA forgoes the dry, traditional posters and informational flyers/advertisements in favor of a highly-entertaining multimedia campaign that engaged users in the process of learning about transportation safety.
Metro’s agency, McCann, made use of cheerful colors and silly, soft, approachable characters to set a stage that is friendly, funny and engaging. The pop tune is extremely catchy and upbeat, juxtaposing very silly was to die (poking a Grizzly bear, dropping a toaster into a bathtub, etc.) with a jaunty tune that is at once surprising and hilarious. The combination of the grotesque content, silly song and bright, playful colors is a jolt to the senses, but completely delightful to experience and engage with.
This stands in stark contrast to other transportation PSA’s, that make use of shocking imagery, ominous and foreboding color palettes, and dramatic language.
Generally speaking, PSA’s borrow the aesthetic of the International Typographic Movement – clean, objective sans-serif typefaces that communicate trustworthiness and authority, messages that are to the point and easy to understand, and clear actions for the viewer. The use of a grid system and neatly organized hierarchy contribute to the “impassive presence of underlying structures to provide a reassuring visual effect of control and functionality” (Drucker and McVarish 2013, 252).
The dramatic imagery found in the average PSA plays upon the fear of injury and death, and calls upon the viewer to recognize their own humanity and those around them.
“Dumb Ways to Die” makes use of the standard PSA elements listed above, but executes them in ways that are surprising, humorous and engaging. And while both “Dumb Ways to Die” and the other PSA examples are certainly morbid, they utilize two very different types of morbidity.
Where the standard PSAs shock, sober and prompt reflection by using hyper-real images that force a viewer to imagine themselves in the same scenario, the morbidity in the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign is almost loveable, adorable – it’s a humorous sort of morbidity that is softened by the colors, the characters, the upbeat tune and catchy lyrics:
“the global appeal of the adorable blobs who famously meet their demise in various comically stupid ways—ways that, Metro Trains memorably suggested, were almost as dumb as losing one’s life by being unsafe near train tracks” (Nudd 2017).
The effect was undeniable – the video went viral almost immediately, with the tune climbing to the Top 10 Chart in iTunes within a few days. To date, there are over 100K downloads of the song, and the YouTube channel has earned 325M views. The first Dumb Ways to Die game hit #1 in 22 countries, has 190M downloads and 4B unique plays globally.
Drucker, Johanna and Emily McVarish. “Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide.” New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009.
“LATEST NEWS.” Dumb Ways to Die, www.dumbwaystodie.com/.
Nudd. “5 Years Later, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ Remains Advertising’s Most Delightfully Horrible Creation.” Adweek, Adweek, 11 Apr. 2017, www.adweek.com/creativity/5-years-later-dumb-ways-to-die-remains-advertisings-most-delightfully-horrible-creation/.
Davies, John Christopher. “The Progress of Australian Humour in Britain.” The European Journal of Humour Research, 4 May 2017, europeanjournalofhumour.org/index.php/ejhr/article/view/255.
Hall, Mark D., and Joanna Carter. “Melboune Metro Video Marketing Campaign: Dumb Ways to Die.” Smart Insights, 15 May 2019, www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/campaign-of-the-week-dumb-ways-to-die/.
Helfand, Jessica. Design: the Invention of Desire. Yale University Press, 2016.
Martin, et al. “Sense of Humor across Cultures: A Comparison of British, Australian and American Respondents.” North American Journal of Psychology, North American Journal of Psychology, 1 June 2013, www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-331348552/sense-of-humor-across-cultures-a-comparison-of-british.