SOLUTION: NYU Marketing Case Study


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JOHN QUELCH
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (A)
Metro Trains Melbourne (MT) was increasingly concerned about the number of passenger-related
accidents on and around its train platforms. Foolhardy behaviors included daredevil teenagers
sprinting over tracks as trains approached and impatient drivers circumventing level crossing gates
after they were already down. In 2011, 6 pedestrians and 11 vehicles were reportedly hit at level
crossings, resulting in two and three deaths, respectively.1 Serious incidents involving train
operations in the state of Victoria (of which Melbourne was the capital) totaled 21 in 2008, 24 in both
2009 and 2010, and 27 in 2011.2
MT was the for-profit, licensed operator of the passenger rail system in the Melbourne
metropolitan area. MT employed around 4,000 staff and moved more than 400,000 customers daily
through 218 stations. MT trains traveled 5.4 million kilometers every three months over approximately
800 kilometers of track with 177 level crossings. 3
Traditional public service ads focusing on deaths and maiming caused by such behaviors,
together with instructions delivered over station loudspeakers to stand back from the platform edge,
did not seem to have an impact on the statistics. MT therefore turned to the McCann advertising
agency to help develop a new style of public service campaign focused on train safety that could
reach a young, skeptical audience.4 The media budget for the campaign was limited to around
$200,000.5
John Mescall, Executive Creative Director, McCann Australia, described the brief given to the
agency:
The brief was to make something invisible visible. . . . Metro had a problem that there were
accidents and deaths on the system due to unthinking carelessness. . . . No one was thinking
that being careless around trains could actually get you hurt. Our brief was to talk to a broad
cross-section but mostly young people to put the idea of rail safety on the agenda for them, to
make it part of their discussion. . . . The brief was to try and do something that would actually
work for once because nothing that had ever been done [before] worked.6
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Professor John Quelch prepared this case. This case was developed from published sources. Funding for the development of this case was
provided by Harvard Business School, and not by the company. Professor Quelch is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School and Professor in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or
illustrations of effective or ineffective management.
Copyright © 2014 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685,
write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu/educators. This publication may not be
digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.
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“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (A)
Endnotes
1 Adam Carey, “Black Humour Latest Weapon in Railway Safety,” The Age, November 17, 2012, http://newsstore
.theage.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac?page=1&sy=age&kw=adam+carey&pb=age&dt=selectRange&dr=1yea
r&so=relevance&sf=text&sf=author&rc=100&rm=200&sp=nrm&clsPage=1&docID=AGE121117BSF207D2KS9,
accessed August 2013.
2 2012 Annual incident statistics, Victoria Train Operators, published by Transport Safety Victoria. Includes
Melbourne Trains and other operators.
3 Metro Trains, “Who We Are,” http://www.metrotrains.com.au/who-we-are/, accessed August 2013.
4 Rowan Dean, “Ad Awards and Adoration to Die For,” Australian Financial Review, June 24, 2013,
http://afr.com/p/business/marketing_ad-awards-and-adoration-to-die-for, accessed August 2013.
5 In 2012, the advertising cost per thousand impressions for online media sites in Australia was around $20.
6 Presentation at Cannes 2013, http://mumbrella.com.au/pre-roll-video-cpms-experience-surge-in-price-146798.
2
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JOHN QUELCH
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
After consulting with platform staff and train drivers, John Mescall, executive creative director at
McCann Melbourne, wrote the copy for the ad, with animation by Julian Frost. The catchy jingle was
written by The Cat Empire keyboardist, Ollie McGill, and performed by Tinpan Orange singer, Emily
Lubitz.1 The ad itemized 18 dumb ways to die (including, for example, “Keep a rattlesnake as pet,
Sell both kidneys on the internet”), followed by three train-safety-related messages about not
standing on the platform edge, not driving around level crossing boom gates, and not running across
train tracks between platforms. The text of the three-minute ad is reproduced in Exhibit 1 and a
storyboard of the ad is shown in Exhibit 2.
The accompanying animated video showed egg-shaped, pastel-colored characters being blown
up, poisoned, electrocuted, or otherwise killing themselves, all to a cheery and memorable nursery
rhyme tune.
Mescall, who described the ad as “dark humor delivered with joy,” summarized the purpose of
the campaign: “We want to create a lasting understanding that you shouldn’t take risks around
trains, that the prospect of death or serious injury is ever-present and that we as a community need to
be aware of what constitutes both safe and dumb behavior.”2
The media budget for the campaign was limited to around $200,000. MT could extend the
campaign to signage on its trains and at its stations where the tune was played without lyrics on
station platforms. Some advertising time was purchased in cinemas showing youth-oriented movies.
But a major objective was to attract free public relations coverage in traditional and social media. The
agency tried to increase shareability by creating clips from the video and sharing them via Tumblr.
Apart from uploading the “Dumb Ways to Die” public service announcement on YouTube on
November 14, 2013 writing the first comment, and providing links to buy the song on iTunes, agency
personnel did not give media interviews or try to promote the campaign in any way. 3
The video was soon posted on the Internet humor site 9gag, where it obtained over 37,000
Facebook shares and 27,000 up votes within 10 days. The song quickly reached the top 10 on iTunes
and sold 10,000 copies within three weeks on Nielsen SoundScan. By early December, the video
spawned at least 80 cover versions (including classic rock), 90 parodies, and 30 million YouTube hits.4
Samples of the parodies are presented in Exhibit 3. MT launched a karaoke version of the song.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Professor John Quelch prepared this case. This case was developed from published sources. Funding for the development of this case was
provided by Harvard Business School, and not by the company. Professor Quelch is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School and Professor in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or
illustrations of effective or ineffective management.
Copyright © 2014 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685,
write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu/educators. This publication may not be
digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.
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514-080
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
Leah Waymark, MT’s general manager for corporate relations, commented: “To have young
people singing about safety around trains is just a terrific outcome for us. Some people might have an
issue of us making light of a serious topic, but if we can save one life or avoid serious injury, that’s
how we’ll measure success.”5
By December, Mescall concluded: “It’s entered popular culture.”6
2
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“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
Exhibit 1
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”Dumb Ways to Die” Lyrics
Set fire to your hair
Poke a stick at a grizzly bear
Eat medicine that’s out of date
Use your private parts as piranha bait
Keep a rattlesnake as pet
Sell both the kidneys on the internet
Eat a tube of super-glue
“I wonder what’s this red button do?”
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Get your toast out with a fork
Do your own electrical work
Teach yourself how to fly
Eat a two week old unrefrigerated pie
Dress up like a moose during hunting season
Disturb a nest of wasps for no good reason
Stand on the edge of a train station platform
Drive around the boom gates at a level
crossing
Run across the tracks between the platforms
They may not rhyme but they’re quite
possibly
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Invite a psycho-killer inside
Scratch a drug dealer’s brand new ride
Take your helmet off in outer space
Use your clothes dryer as a hiding place
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumb ways to die
So many dumb ways to die
Dumbest ways to die
Dumbest ways to die
Dumbest ways to die
So many dumb
So many dumb ways to die
SPOKEN: [Be safe around trains. A message
from Metro]
vocalist: Emily Lubitz, from the band Tinpan Orange.
music: Ollie McGill, from the band the Cat Empire.
Source: http://www.anysonglyrics.com/lyrics/t/Tangerine-Kitty/Dumb-Ways-To-Die.htm, September 16, 2013.
3
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Exhibit 2
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
Storyboard for “Dumb Ways to Die”
4
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Exhibit 2 (continued)
Source: Illustrations excerpted from Liz Klimas, The Blaze, http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/11/21/this-is-the-viralaustralian-dumb-ways-to-die-psa-that-glenn-beck-loves-and-will-be-stuck-in-your-head-all-day/, accessed August 2013.
5
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Exhibit 3
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
”Dumb Ways to Die” Parody Samples
Source: Illustrations excerpted from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/dumb-ways-to-die, accessed August 2013.
6
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“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (B)
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Endnotes
1
Barbara Lippert, “‘Dumb Ways To Die’ Is Charmingly Gruesome,” MediaPost.com, June 2013, http://www.
mediapost.com, accessed September 2013.
2
Lucinda Beaman, “Stupidity Goes Viral as it Finds an Audience to Die For,” The Times (London), December 1,
2012, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/australia-newzealand/article3616388.ece, accessed August
2013.
3
McCann Australia, “All Work,” http://www.mccann.com.au/project/dumb-ways-to-die, accessed August
2013.
4
Nancy Szokan and M. Fard, “Video on ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ Attracts Millions of Online Viewers,” Washington
Post, December 4, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/video-on-dumb-ways-todie-attracts-millions-of-online-viewers/2012/12/03/a1fbb290-6964-11e1-acc6-32fefc7ccd67_story.html, accessed
August 2013.
5
“Safety ads a global hit,” TheAge, June20, 2013, http://newsstore.theage.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac?page
=1&sy=age&kw=dumb+w+to+die&pb=age&dt=selectRange&dr=6months&so=relevance&sf=text&sf=author&r
c=100&rm=200&sp=nrm&clsPage=1&docID=AGE1306206F7ML7VO74F, accessed August 2013.
6Asher
Moses, “Safety Video Goes Viral, Not Bad for a Dumb Idea,” Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 2012.
7
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JOHN QUELCH
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (C)
The “Dumb Ways to Die” (DWTD) campaign stole the show at the June 2013 Cannes Lions
festival, international advertising’s annual awards event. DWTD captured a record five Cannes
Grand Prix.1
David Gallagher, chair of the Cannes Public Relations Lions awards jury, stated: “The content was
based on real human insight—it was fun, engaging and immensely shareable. And it led to a 21
percent reduction in serious train accidents, so it was very effective.”2
John Mescall, executive creative director at McCann and the copywriter on DWTD, commented:
“We could have shown documentary film in which people get hit by trains, but we were going for
entertainment rather than shock value. . . . We didn’t preach, we didn’t threaten, we didn’t
lecture. . . . We wanted to engage a young audience who are wired to resist lectures and warnings
from authorities, but would share recommendations peer-to-peer. It allows you to call out your
friends without losing your cred.”3
Speaking at Cannes, Mescall said: “When you’re trying to achieve behavioral change in a world of
blunt instruments, it’s far more effective to bring people along than hit them with your
message. . . . Rather than repel young people who didn’t want to hear a message about train safety,
DWTD made it socially acceptable to discuss something as boring as being safe around trains.”4
DWTD was extended across the full range of media. There was even a DWTD mobile phone app
in which players had to prevent characters from dying a gruesome death. Supermodel Kate Moss
revealed in an interview that this was her favorite phone app. “It is totally addictive,” she said.5 The
game climbed to number one in 17 countries. The app also invited players to pledge “not to do dumb
stuff around trains.”6
Between November 2012 and July 2013, the DWTD public service announcement was viewed 57
million times and garnered 3.8 Facebook shares, making it the most-shared PSA in history.7 Eight
months after launch, DWTD was still the fourth most-shared ad of the month. One million online
pledges were received.8 Commentators estimated the value of free media coverage—including stories
about the ad—at $60 million.9 The song charted in 28 countries.10
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Professor John Quelch prepared this case. This case was developed from published sources. Funding for the development of this case was
provided by Harvard Business School, and not by the company. Professor Quelch is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School and Professor in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or
illustrations of effective or ineffective management.
Copyright © 2014 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685,
write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu/educators. This publication may not be
digitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.
This document is authorized for use only by Dev Das in 2021.
For the exclusive use of D. Das, 2021.
514-081
“Dumb Ways to Die”: Advertising Train Safety (C)
Commenting on the low budget campaign’s effectiveness, Mescall stated: “You don’t need a lot of
money to do something outstanding. . . . It gives heart to marketers everywhere.”11
Metro Trains reported a 30% reduction in near-miss accidents, from 13.29 near-misses per million
kilometers traveled from November 2011 to January 2012, to 9.17 near-misses per million kilometers
traveled from November 2012 to January 2013.12
2
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Dumb Ways To Die: Advertising Train Safety (C)
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Endnotes
1 Official
campaign site, http://dumbwaystodie.com/, accessed August 2013.
2 Bruce Kennedy, “Why ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ Became A Viral Hit,” What’s Trending on Money (blog),
MSN.com, June 18, 2013, http://money.msn.com/now/blog–why-dumb-ways-to-die became-a viral-hit, accessed
August 2013.
3
Barbara Lippert, “‘Dumb Ways To Die’ Is Charmingly Gruesome,” MediaPost.com, June 2013, http://
www.mediapost.com, accessed September 2013.
4
Darren Davidson, “A Not So Dumb Way to Sell Rail Safety Acclaimed,” The Australian, June 20, 2013,
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/a-not-so-dumb-way-to-sell-rail-safety-acclaimed/story-e6frg9961226666544520#, accessed August 2013.
5 Annette Sharp et al., “Sydney Confidential,” Daily Telegraph (Australia), July 22, 2013,
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/sydney-confidential/kate-moss-reveals-favourite-phoneapp-is-aussie-train-safety-campaign-dumb-ways-to-die/story-fni0cvc9-1226682740289, accessed August 2013.
6 McCann Australia, “Transformation,” http://www.mccann.com.au/project/dumb-ways-to-die, accessed
August 2013.
7 Lippert,
“‘Dumb Ways To Die’ Is Charmingly Gruesome.”
8 Shawn Amos, “WATCH: Content Shines at Cannes,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.
com/shawn-amos/watch-content-shines-at c_b_3484442, accessed August 2013.
9
Darren Davidson, “Safety Ad Puts McCann on Track,” The Australian, June 24, 2013, http://www.the
australian.com.au/media/train-ad-puts-mccann-on-track/story-e6frg996-1226668433366#, accessed August 2013.
10
Asher Moses, “Safety Video Goes Viral, Not Bad for a Dumb Idea,” Sydney Morning Herald, November 30,
2012.
11 Davidson,
“A Not So Dumb Way to Sell Rail Safety Acclaimed.”
12
Stephen Cauchi, “No dumb luck: Metro claims safety success,” The Age, February 14, 2013,
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/no-dumb-luck-metro-claims-safety-success-20130214-2eelt.html
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