Dumb Ways To Die and social media bullshit

Karalee Evans, Mumbrella

Karalee Evans is sceptical about a comment made at last week’s Meet The Marketers evening when a Metro Trains executive said the organisation had seen a 20% drop in risky behaviour since its video went viral.

You know, up until Friday I was a big fan of the brilliant little pocket of content gold, Dumb Ways to Die.

I mean, that little animated content piece that could, with accompanying catchy tune gleaned over 39 million views on YouTube and still sits as Australia’s most viral video of all time. That’s a lot of eyeballs on a cartoon with an annoying song, demonstrating the boring topic of naughty and dangerous behavior on Melbourne’s train network.

At the time, it was reported that uniquely, the video went viral thanks in large to mobile viewers. McCann and Metro had seemingly found the formula to viral; mobile. And it didn’t hurt that industry blogs, news outlets and the general internet picked up on the video as it began to snowball, creating a Streisand effect and pushing it into viral wonderland.

But the kicker? Most of these stories, and the links and subsequent viewers, were from outside of Australia let alone the target, Melbourne.

Now, that’s not to say that the content itself wasn’t engaging or a welcome differential in what is a notoriously difficult area of communications. Public transport safety, indeed all forms of road and transport safety social marketing, is difficult. People are difficult. Behaviour is difficult. Generating ongoing change is difficult.

Take for instance level crossing safety; would you believe after 20 odd years of implementing hard-hitting, multi-faceted campaigns to change behavior and get Victorian drivers to stop at crossings, the incident rate is still largely the same?

Indeed, Victorian and Federal Governments have ploughed significant monies into complex programs of facility upgrades, improving trains and train drivers and researching the motivators of drivers to understand why they don’t give way to a 41.5 tonne train that takes at least 400 meters to stop. And then turning that into integrated social marketing (behavioural change) programs.

So that’s why Metro Trains’ seemingly unchallenged claim that a viral video that was watched by a majority of eyes not on Australian soil let alone Melbourne soil and was a short-burst awareness message leading up to Christmas holidays, “led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behavior” is social media bullshit.

Why it wasn’t challenged is a mystery. Perhaps B.J Mendeleson is right and we as an industry have truly digressed into “the asshole based economy” with “cyber utopians” driving inflated metrics that have little to no substance but support the social media marketing hyperbole that a viral video will indeed change the world [hello, Kony].

Indeed, Mendeleson asserts “packaging and selling of bullshit is currently fueling an economic bubble that’ll have disastrous effects for everybody when it pops.”

It was later clarified that this 20 percent reduction in risky behaviour was compared to annual safety figures. Seriously, that’s the clarification.

The claim is that in the two months following the video, risky behaviour at Melbourne’s train stations, including drivers at boom gates, reduced by 20 percent. Risky behaviour can be classified as driving around activated boom gates, forcing train doors open, standing over the yellow line on platforms, etc. A 20 percent reduction is extraordinary. We’re talking about hundreds of incidents on one of Australia’s biggest metropolitan rail networks.

My point? If Metro and indeed McCann really are claiming that Dumb Ways to Die led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behaviour; e.g. a significant behavioural change in a period of two months, then we really need to see the empirical evidence.

Was the campaign (read; video) evaluated on a random sample of Christmas holidays commuters to ascertain prompted and unprompted message awareness at comparable stations benchmarked for incidence of risky behaviour over the same time period? Was the messaging measured against motivators and detractors of said behavioural change outcomes? Were environmental factors such as Christmas holidays, station and facility upgrades, weather et al included?

They’re just the easy questions.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved the video and the use of fun and frivolous delivery to raise awareness of behaviours that need to be changed. The execution was brilliant. McCann’s CD and team should be sitting back still revelling in creating such a viral piece of content they’ll get prospects coming to them with a simple brief of ‘make it go viral like Dumb Ways to Die’, all while they’re polishing their creative awards for a content piece that worked to cut through. And they deserve it.

But if we’re going to be taken seriously and avoid becoming an industry that already smells like an asshole based economy; we need to be a bit more transparent and apply more critical thinking over a longer period of time before we agree that the campaign was indeed effective in what it sort to achieve; a behaviour change.

And if Metro put the figures where their claims are and disclose that they have indeed evaluated the campaign messaging against the annual safety figures in a way that can categorically prove Dumb Ways to Die wasn’t dumb, but did the impossible, yes of course, I’ll apologise. Publicly.

Until then, let’s just write the awards articles for Dumb Ways to Die, revelling in the social media viral video that changed behaviour and saved lives. In two months. Without disclosure of evaluation methods. Or a bit more time to cook to you know, actually change behaviour. On a sustained, and therefore effective level.

Because who doesn’t want to be a cyber utopian in a bullshit economy of social media hyperbole?


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