“Dumb Ways to Die” Campaign—Dumb Enough to Work?

What do you think of when you hear “Australia”? Accents? Kangaroos? The Great Barrier Reef? Wouldn’t it be nice to be there in lieu of the recent frigid weather? I bet two things no one would ever put together is Australia and train safety, but you probably will after seeing the two awareness commercials Australia has recently released for the Melbourne Metro.

In 2012 “Dumb Ways to Die” was launched as a train safety PSA. The three-minute animated spot features personified blobs making outrageously stupid decisions –  setting your hair on fire, eating out of date medicine, using the clothes dryer as a hiding place, selling both kidneys on the Internet. With these demonstrations, comes a catchy song that illustrates each scene as it unfolds. At the 2:24 mark, the audience is introduced to train safety in which the dumbest ways to die are: standing on the edge of a train station platform, driving around the barrier at a railroad crossing, and running across the tracks.

This year, another PSA spot appeared just in time for Valentine’s Day. Titled “Dumb Ways”, the second video – this only ones 30 seconds – features the blob from the original spot who died from selling both his kidneys on the Internet and replicates the format of the first spot with the simplistic design elements, characters, and tune. Even though the new spot has absolutely no correlation with train safety, the advertisement’s copy reads “Be safe around Valentine’s Day*” and in smaller font, “*and trains”.

With the release of the newest Valentine spot, it is obvious that McCann Melbourne realized the success first 3 minute spot reached with over 71 million YouTube views. However, the Valentine Day advertisement is relying on the presumption that the viewer has already seen previous campaign efforts, which include radio, print and outdoor advertising. The campaign even has some interactive media such as a fully functioning website and a mobile phone game app that offers short mini games where you can save the characters from their “dumb” deaths.

There is no denying that the whole campaign is undeniably cute and captures attention, but the question is, is this direction effective?

When asked about the creation and initial vision of the campaign, John Mescall, McCann’s executive director, said this, “The idea for a song started from a very simple premise: What if we disguised a worthy safety message inside something that didn’t feel at all like a safety message? So we thought about what the complete opposite of a serious safety message would be and came to the conclusion it was an insanely happy and cute song.”


What Mescall is describing is the use of logical fallacy or in our case irrelevant points. Usually the use of fallacies in an argument or message weakens it, but Mescall used it to his advantage, strengthening the impact.

One logical fallacy, argumentum ad baculum, is an argument that uses threats or forces to cause the acceptance of the conclusion. Example: “Do this! Or ____ will happen!” “If you don’t this, ____ will happen!” The Dumb Ways campaign uses this fallacy’s appeal to fear in the explicit form of death – if you do these activities in the ad you will die – to remind people of the need for train safety.

In addition, another logical fallacy is also used – red herring. In this type, a fallacy of diversion is created where irrelevant arguments or information is introduced into a discussion in order to divert people’s attention away from the issue under discussion and towards a different conclusion. No one needs to know all the dumb ways to die; almost all of the scenarios are things that are common sense. Except for the last 30 seconds, none of the scenarios are relevant to educating people on train safety.

Over a year after the original launch of the “Dumb Ways to Die” commercial, the campaign has grabbed the attention of the world, educating all of us on train safety. What do you think of this PSA? Do you think the campaign could have been stronger if the agency had gone in a different direction?

Savannah Valade, Elizabeth Harrington, Caroline Robinson