Has Dumb Ways to Die been effective?

dumb ways to die trainWhile Dumb Ways to Die has won more creative awards than almost any other it has not been able to replicate that success in the coveted effectiveness categories. Miranda Ward investigates whether the much-vaunted campaign was ultimately a failure.   

Recently AdAge named Metro Trains’ Dumb Ways to Die campaign as the 12th best campaign of the 21st century, an accolade largely based on the its creative prowess after it stormed the Cannes Lions advertising festival in 2013 to become the most awarded campaign in the history of the awards.

However, questions have been raised over how effective the campaign was in its goal of keeping Melburnians safer around trains, after it failed to win metal in the Creative Effectiveness category at Cannes last year, and picking up just a silver and two bronzes at the Australian Effies in 2013.

The campaign, created by McCann Melbourne, launched in the third quarter of 2012, and to date has more than 97m views on its official YouTube video, as well as spawning dozens of cover versions and unofficial uploads.

It had four prime objectives, according to a case study submitted to The Communications Council for the Australian Effie Awards in 2013:

  1. Increase public awareness and engagement with rail safety (there was not sufficient data to provide us with a benchmark
    prior to this campaign. This campaign was designed to set measurable objectives in terms of awareness & engagement)
  2. Generate PR, buzz and sharing around our message about rail safety. Although an exact Key Performance Indicator (kpi) could not be determined there was an expectation that the campaign would generate earned media on and offline.
  3. Invite a commitment to be safe (we a drew a line in the sand and looked to get 10,000 local pledges on our website) in a 12-month period
  4. See a reduction of near misses and accidents at level crossings and station platforms over 12 months by 10 per cent.

Effies SilverA case study submitted for the Creative Effectiveness Lions also lists similar campaign aims.

It was the campaign’s objectives that one effectiveness award juror told Mumbrella “didn’t match up with the results at the end”.

They said: “They [McCann Melbourne] did a really good job trying to validate their results. The discussion in the [jury] room was the actual results versus claimed numbers in different areas was quite different.

“They tried to justify it by taking a three month window when a lot of the activity was actually in market that they tried to sell through.”

The jury member said the numbers the case study put forward, including “extraordinary views on Facebook”, “didn’t really correlate with the period they were measuring against or have anything significant against people around that vicinity”.

“At the end of the day it’s a local area marketing campaign so it should have had local area marketing measures against it,” the jury member added.

In February 2013, Metro Trains general manager of corporate relations and business development Leah Waymark said the three-minute cartoon had prompted a sharp reduction in “risky or dumb behaviour” such as walking or driving around boomgates at level crossings.

Waymark said the campaign had seen a 20 per cent drop in “dumb behaviour” on train platforms in the Melbourne area in the two months directly after the launch of the safety video, with incidences of near misses at stations also down 20 per cent against the annual average.



But speaking to Mumbrella Waymark was more cautious about attributing any decreases in near misses or injuries directly to the campaign.

“When it comes to near misses, the reporting has increased quite significantly. You can’t use that data really because we’ve implemented new reporting hotlines and incentives to encourage drivers and station staff to report near misses, so we’re collecting a lot more data then we have ever before,” she said.

“We’re taking lots of steps [to reduce injuries and deaths], Dumb Ways to Die is only one component of it. Even with these reductions I wouldn’t just put it down to Dumb Ways to Die, it’s really a collection of a range of things we’re doing and safety is a big focus for us.”

However, in the case study submitted to The Communications Council’s Australian Effie Awards last year, McCann was confident a correlation between an improvement in accident figures and the campaign existed.

The case study, written by McCann Melbourne managing director Adrian Mills and strategic planner Danish Chan, said: “Typically attributing the sole success of a reduction of accidents and deaths to an advertising campaign is dubious. Commuter numbers, weather, ongoing safety activities, and high profile incidents all contribute to changes in public behaviour around trains.

“However due to the strong correlation between the campaign’s launch in November, the level of attention it gained in both traditional and social media and the minimal changes in Metro’s safety procedures, we believe that Dumb Ways to Die has had a considerable impact on these safety results.”

On the campaign’s role in reducing near misses and accidents around trains by 10 per cent, the case study said: “To accurately compare year-on-year statistics we look at the number of near misses in and around stations per million boardings and for level crossings we look at the number of incidents per million kilometres travelled.

“The biggest improvement was in the number of collisions or near misses with vehicles and pedestrians at level crossings.

“Although it’s too early to be confident of a sustainable reduction in near misses, the early signs are encouraging,” the case study continued.

“For the November to January period in 2011/12 there were 13.29 near misses per million kilometres while for the same period in 2012/13 there were 9.17 per million kilometres.”

Source: Metro: Dumb Ways to Die case study submitted to The Communications Council

Source: Metro: Dumb Ways to Die case study submitted to The Communications Council

On the campaign’s results Waymark told Mumbrella: “Passenger serious injuries have gone from 31 in 2012 to 13 in 2013 and 5 for the first half of 2014.

“The difficulty with this is it is a behaviour change campaign and how do you measure if you have in fact averted a death?

“In terms of injuries, that is the consequence of someone taking a risk or had an accident, those numbers have definitely gone down quite significantly over that period.”

Source: Transport Safety Victory

Source: Transport Safety Victory

According to numbers on the Transport Safety Victoria website, which include employees, passengers, public and trespassers, in the first quarter of 2012 three people were killed around trains while 12 were seriously injured.

Quarter two, directly before the campaign’s launch, saw four people killed and seven seriously injured while in quarter four, directly after the launch of the campaign, two people died and 14 were seriously injured.

In 2013 those numbers halved with a five people killed across the year, while 26 were seriously injured. And in the first half of 2014, through to May 18, four people were killed and eight were seriously injured.

Source: Transport Safety Victory

Source: Transport Safety Victory

Transport Safety Victoria has not yet released the numbers for the last half of the year.

McCann’s Mills told Mumbrella one of the long term impacts of the campaign will be the “cohort of young Victorians who have played a rail safety message on their phones by the time they start taking public transport themselves”, which ties in to the campaign’s third objective to get 10,000 Melburnians to pledge to be safe around trains.

Dumb Ways to Die pledgeTo date the campaign has had around 90m pledges to be safe around trains, Mills said.

“This is from people hitting buttons and taking photos and pledging to be safe around trains.”

He said the campaign had 43 per cent awareness amongst 16-64 year olds across Australia, according to research.

“Then we have 70 per cent of kids in Australia who are aware of the campaign and 67 per cent of those have been actively involved in engaging with the campaign.

“If you talk to anyone under 10 about Dumb Ways to Die they’ll talk to you about how much they love it and tell you exactly what it’s about. We turned Metro Trains into Disney,” Mills quipped.

“You’ll hopefully see a long term effect there.”

While the engagement with children is quite impressive it does not prove the campaign has been effective as their target market, according to the case study, was 18-29 year olds, of which only 46 per cent reported having seen the campaign.

As the the jury member told Mumbrella the problem with the campaign’s case study was it “never set out to own the conversation” around safety and trains and rather it was just a “contagious idea” which took off in unexpected ways, including capturing the imagination of younger children.

For the jury member this is why the campaign is not as effective as it could be, because it can be argued some of the results are accidental or bonuses rather than intentionally planned for.

“Clearly it was a brilliant, contagious idea that went off and went far-beyond anything they ever thought it was going to,” the jury member said.

On the target audience for the campaign Waymark said: “This is a behaviour change campaign and it is particularly aimed at people who take risks. It targets young people, many of whom are recent customers or those likely to be customers in the coming years, and we then extend the campaign into our school education program.

“Within that we particularly focus on grade 6 students. We know that most times when parents are going to first allow their children to start using public transport independently are when they hit high school age. We use Dumb Ways to Die messages as the core of our school education program. We have a team of people who go into primary schools around Melbourne.”

The case study submitted to The Communications Council stressed the popularity of the song, the focal point of the campaign.

“During the first few months of the launch of Dumb Ways to Die, the song garnered astronomical attention and engagement. Dumb Ways to Die was so engaging it charted on iTunes in 28 countries,” it read.

Since its launch the campaign has been continually active, branching into merchandise and video games.



“The greatest engagement has definitely been through the game,” said Mills.

“The first game, which is still doing quite well, it went to number one in 31 countries, and has 97 million downloads and has been played 1.6b times.

“That’s kind of crazy when you think about engagement for a rail safety campaign.”

Metro Trains followed up the first game with a second one, launched in November last year.

“The latest version of the game we’ve launched went to number one in 83 countries on the iPad and over 50 countries on the iPhone,” said Mills.

“In a couple of weeks it’s had 2m downloads.”

Along with the launch of the games, Metro Trains and McCann Melbourne created a number of pieces of content to mark occasions throughout the year, such as Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day, in an effort to extend the campaign.

“Last year we put out 11 different Dumb Ways to Die pieces of film content which collectively add up to 25m views,” said Mills.

“There is still massive appetite.

We released a Christmas single and it went to number six in a couple of countries. In Australia it was the sixth biggest Christmas single.”

Dumb Ways to Die is, creatively, a winning idea, as is evidenced by an unprecedented five Grand Prix’s at Cannes, a Black Pencil at D&AD and dozens of other local and international awards.

But while awards and tens of millions of YouTube views are a bonus for marketers and agencies, the point of the campaign was to raise awareness of train safety amongst 18-29 year olds in the Melbourne metro region. Has it done so?

According to Metro Trains’ Waymark while it may well be a contributing factor the reduction in near-misses cannot be attributed solely to the campaign, suggesting we can put a cross next to that objective

And while it was wildly popular with younger children, more than half of its target audience failed to recall seeing the campaign, suggesting it may not have been as memorable for adults.

So creatively Dumb Ways to Die was an unparalleled champion. But in terms of its effectiveness targets it has not been quite such a success.

But while short-term the results are unproven, perhaps the real, and unintended consequences of the campaign will be an increased level of awareness of train safety with those youngsters who have grown up playing the games and singing the songs.


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