Not so dumb

Something strange happened last year. Metro Trains, who are not especially known for effective communications, decided (were convinced) to make a video.

The video was a fun little ditty called “Dumb Ways to Die” and targeted the stupid things people do that get them killed, some of which were stupid things people do around trains and train tracks that get them killed.

And decidedly unlike every other communication that Metro has produced, this one went viral (for all the right reasons) to the tune of 40 million hits on YouTube and counting.

But more importantly it seems to have had the desired effect. It was reported last week that the number of near-miss incidents has fallen by 30% since the video launched. Can I hear a yay for effective marketing!

I am often critical of marketing in general and marketing communications more specifically, not because I don’t think it is valuable, but because it seems to rise up and do what it can do best.

This is marketing communications at its best.

Smart and well-targeted without a “me-too” bone in its body. (We will leave why Metro doesn’t employ these kinds of smarts the rest of the time for another day). It is unsurprising that it had the desired effect and is being picked up in schools and by international bodies.

Too much of marketing is just noise. Jargon-filled, “we” focused, noise where the message is all about the organisation and not about the audience it is targeting.

Too much execution is by the numbers. This campaign could have easily fallen victim to ad and billboard syndrome.

Too few organisations step back and really think about the people they are targeting and craft a message and, just as importantly, marry it with an approach that reaches the intended audience.

Smart marketing (and communciations) really considers the audience first and last. Craft messages that people can understand. Think about the best way to get the message across. Throw out the checklist (brochure, check, ad, check, etc). Aren’t afraid to appeal to my emotions. Aren’t afraid to be funny. Aren’t afraid to offend. Aren’t afraid to be different and stand out (I know organisations all talk about differentiation but it rarely translates to how things get done).

As futurist Thornton May has said, “You might be the best thing since sliced bread but if I don’t know about you it doesn’t do me a damn bit of good.” And to know about you I’ve got to notice you. And in today’s noisy world, to notice you you’ve got to get my attention.

Sadly, most marketing (and commmunications) is more “dull ways not getting attention” than “Dumb Ways to Die.”

So my challenge to you all is don’t be dull and “me-too”. Be better. Be “Dumb Ways to Die” better.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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