I was all ready to like the Dumb Ways to Die video, the new internet-based campaign from Victoria’s Metro Trains.
After all, it is based around some powerful communication techniques that I spend a lot of time advocating: a well thought out promotional strategy to support the video (which a lot of companies forget about that don’t use an ad agency, but you can find out more about it in our Online Marketing Video Report), a good mixture of both online and offline techniques which has enabled it to get 25 million YouTube views in a week, no small feat, and it is an animation style which does, when used correctly, make a tough topic a lot more, well digestible (despite it making references to indigestible things that kill you). A further bonus is that it has made people more aware that there is even an issue with train safety.
So it’s cute, entertaining and gone viral. Well done, ad agency for duping your client into thinking this will work. And Metro Trains, you deserve a slap on the wrist, for believing the hype the ad agency gave you and any possible glamour associated with being involved with a “viral video”.
At the end of the day, a safety video is all about saving lives. Not making it cute and funny.
Here are five ways this video is dumb:
- Forgetting the real safety message – For a full 2.5 minutes, the video sings its way through Dumb Ways to Die, showing cutesy little cartoon characters dying in funny little examples such as eating superglue, sticking forks in toasters and getting their private parts eaten by piranhas. These are, of course, dumb ways to die. It’s not until you get to the final 30 seconds (yes, final 30 seconds, if you can manage to watch that long and most people drop out around the 1.15 minute mark in a standard video on YouTube) that you get three quick examples related to train safety – stand on the edge of a train station platform, drive around the boom gates at a level crossing and run across the tracks at a platform). So out of a 3 minute video you get, a paltry 12 seconds of actual safety train messages. It’s like they try to avoid the real message, in case you will tune out, so it’s all padded out with funny ways of dying (if you can really even call them funny!) But even worse of all, is that it doesn’t teach people how to behave around trains. It just shows you what not to do. Study after study, shows that you have to show people the right way to behave, not the wrong way, if you want to get any sort of behavior change.
- Safety is so blue collar - I’ve said this before (When Workplace Safety Training Videos Go Bad), but once you get creative people from ad agencies or the film industry involved with safety, they find safety so atrociously boring and beneath them. To engage them into the project, they always want to sensationalise any safety campaigns that happens to unfortunately cross their path. What they don’t realise is that research studies have shown time and time again, that you get very little behavioural changes with entertainment. Yet, still they churn out the gore and gee whiz, even involve some exciting people from the music industry to spice it up a bit! How about that! So while it might look like a cool way of educating people, it’s just a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. Or another agency person being so desperate to feel like they’re working on something cool, that they turn it into a cartoon that’s more South Park versus Music video than any video worth learning from.
- Poor use of YouTube and website – The point of using YouTube is to get people to your website to learn further about your message. But the video doesn’t do this on YouTube, in fact it just talks about the music and where to buy it. This could have been an opportunity to tell people why the video was made and how important it is to act safe around trains. Then, direct them to the www.dumbwaystodie.com website for further information. Granted this website has some information, but it is so small, with all of the call to action buttons being about buying the music and I will say so again (because repetition is good for learning), such little information is given to remind people to keep safe around trains!
- Focusing on the music and not the real message – Yes, the song is catchy. But why, oh why, would Metro Trains want to make money from the music? All this does is belittle the whole safety message. If kids are humming the tune, in countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore (where it has become a hit!) is that really stopping kids from dying accidentally on trains in Victoria? Surely, getting kids to sing a tune about “Keep Safe Around Trains” is a better way to focus their attention.
- Shallow, shallow, shallow – Yep, that’s right. While shares, views are important metrics in getting a video watched, they’re all “vanity metrics”, as social Media consultant Hugh Stephens writes in the Mumbrella blog. While I normally advise our clients to track these measurements for an online video, it is misleading in this case. The bottom line is – is it going to change behavior? Will it save lives? And while I’d like my crystal ball to say otherwise, sadly the answer is no. People are talking about the video, but they're not showing any awareness about the danger of trains and what to do about it. While it has created a much needed awareness of the dangers of trains, it's all at a superficial level.
If the main objective of this video was to get seen by millions of people and to make money from iTunes, then it has done its job superbly. But if the video was made to save lives then it fails miserably. It misses the market when it comes to using the right techniques for behaviour change, directing viewers to learning more about the importance of train safety and makes a complete mockery of the importance of this topic. Overall, it’s just such a massively dumb strategy.
What do you think?