Signs of the Times: “Dumb Ways to Die” – a Twisted (yet fun) Train Safety Campaign in Melbourne

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Metro Train Stations, Melbourne, Australia. While waiting for a train at the Flinders Street Station, I noticed a rather interesting piece of art by the bathrooms. A partial skeleton was somewhat incinerated after sticking a fork in a toaster. I didn’t think too much about it other than: “hmmm that’s a bit odd.”

Then a large mural caught my eye. My sister, Suzanne, was checking it out as well. Cute little jellybean characters all stood around proclaiming “I solemnly swear to be safe around trains.”  At the bottom of the mural was a series of dashed lines in the shape of a person. It’s an outline that you tell your kid to go stand next to for a photo op.

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Upon further inspection, we realized that all the cute jellybeans were enduring horrific deaths — all while smiling in good fun. I believe the metaphor of “train wreck” is fairly appropriate at this ironic morbid moment. Fascinated, we tried to guess the culprits of the killings.

This guy apparently got money for his kidneys.

This guy apparently got money for his kidneys.

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Someone who used hairspray near an open flame?

A guy being attacked by killer fleas?

A guy being attacked by killer fleas?

pirahnna eating genitals

Man-eating fish devour this guy’s genitals, and it looks like he’s enjoying it a bit.

Kid playing hide and seek in a dryer.

Kid playing hide and seek in a dryer.

At times, it’s hard to tell if the satiric campaign is targeting kids or adults. It definitely has a “don’t try this at home vibe (e.g. the toaster guy, the guy using a plastic bag as a toy and the character playing hide and seek in a dryer). But then, it also has the more adult concept of organ harvesting.

Metro Trains apparently has had huge exposure with the ads, which instantly went viral. According to Australia’s The Age, the ad’s video (complete with a gentle jingle) received 2.7 million views in 48 hours on YouTube after it was released in November 2012. The characters are still plastered all over the station on windows, escalators, doors.

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

A half of grapefruit or a decapitated character? © Stephanie Glaser 2013

Who needs Federation Square when you have creepy death wish characters to find and photograph? Suz and I spent some time tracking down each one of them. Even the people at the Flinders Street Station’s Metro Information said this about the ad campaign “Isn’t it good?!” when Suz asked about it.

dumb ways to die sliced in half

“Dumb Ways to Die” has a website and a video. In fact, our quest to find out more continued at the official Melbourne Visitors Information Centre where, again, we asked about the campaign. “Oh, yes, it’s very popular.” Two clerks told us.

“There are even parody videos that people have made. Yes, definitely, check it out,” they added. When I went back over to the same clerks to inquire about Melbourne street art, I saw them both laughing. They had the parody up on YouTube. A guy had actually placed something flammable on top of his head.

The stars of the campaign are actually three severed characters who were definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time: the train tracks. Essentially, that is the point of the campaign. Don’t f**k around on train tracks or you’re a dumbass like these other idiots.

two severed train characters

The campaign, which was created by John Mescall and Pat Baron of the agency McCann Worldgroup Australia, definitely creeps into your mind and makes you think. In an interview with the advertising magazine Creative, Chloe Alsop, marketing manager of Metro Trains says:

“This campaign is designed to draw people to the safety message, rather than frighten them away. Especially in our younger segments. 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 behaviour.”

Here is a link to the “Dumb Ways to Die” video, which, indeed, is demented fun. We each picked out our favorite characters. Suz liked the organ “donor” and I couldn’t decide between the guy whose pelvis and genitals are being devoured by piranhas or the guy being attacked by a bear.

grizzly bear two

genital eating on door

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16 thoughts on “Signs of the Times: “Dumb Ways to Die” – a Twisted (yet fun) Train Safety Campaign in Melbourne

  1. I remember watching this video when it came out, and thinking how morbid and cute it was at the same time. And how brilliant the person/people who came up with was/were!

    • I was completely fascinated with this ad campaign! I actually wanted to spend the day visiting various train stations because several had different characters and explanations. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Oh yeah I saw that video too! It was hilarious and while morbid it’s catchy and young people actually paid attention to it. Would love to find out how the campaign is doing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Beth! I honestly spent probably too much time in the Melbourne train station checking this campaign out and taking photos. The video has won some heavy hitting international advertising awards as well. It’s amazing, too, because it’s a sensation with kids in the US now.

      My own kids love the video and I can’t tell you how many of their friends know the song and video, too. It’s cute and unsettling at the same time to see kids singing along with the chorus “Dumb Ways to Die.” There is also an app (of course!) that you can play for which you try to keep the little jellybean guys from dying.
      Cheers! Steph

    • Curt — I totally agree about a croc being more appropriate! In fact, I thought it was somewhat odd that it’s an Aussie campaign and a grizzly bear and rattlesnake are included as well. Oz definitely has enough deadly creatures to contribute to a dumb way to die. Maybe bears are more unusual??? At any rate, thanks for the comment! Cheers — Steph

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