Dumb Ways To Die and A Strange Sense of Success

Is using humour in safety a method to handle and think about things we are uncomfortable with or does using humour simply help us ignore the real issues?.

Update: Media and marketing commentators Mumbrella report similar findings to Rob Long (18 months later) in their article Has Dumb Ways to Die been effective?. They say: “While Dumb Ways to Die has won more creative awards than almost any other it has not been able to replicate that success in the coveted effectiveness categories”

Dumb Ways To Die – A Strange Sense of Success

Article by Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com will definitely make you rethink your initial thoughts about this video. Another interesting read is an article by John Culvenor on his safe design blog where he quite right says that advertising money is better spent on safer facilities than trying to change naughty behaviour:  Dumb ways to die – novel – but useless

Dumb ways to dieWhen it comes to risk and safety, with what do we measure success indeed, can success be measured or is it much about the eye of the beholder? The fanfare over the ‘“Dumb Ways to Die” campaign and, claims to success make an interesting study.

B&T comment:

The ‘beautiful’ Dumb Ways to Die campaign is officially the most-successful ever campaign at Cannes bagging two more Grand Prix on its final day, and 28 Lions overall. (http://www.bandt.com.au/news/advertising/mccann-bags-record-haul-as-dumb-ways-becomes-best)

Rail Express claims:

Metro Trains Melbourne’s (MTM) Dumb Ways To Die rail safety campaign has officially become the most awarded ad in the history of the Cannes advertising festival with the campaign’s producer, Melbourne agency McCann, winning 32 Lions awards. (http://www.railexpress.com.au/archive/2013/june-2013/june-26-2013/other-top-stories/mtm2019s-dumb-ways-to-die-global-success).

Rail Express further claims:

So successful was the campaign that within three months, MTM reportedly saw a 21% reduction in railway accidents and deaths compared to a year ago, with one million people already signing pledges on MTM’s http://dumbwaystodie.com/ which reads: ‘I solemnly swear to not do dumb stuff around trains.’

Businessweek claims:

There are clear reasons why ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ has been a success. It’s catchy and the animation is hilarious. But it has another, less obvious, thing going for it: the power of positivity.

So what is the success of this campaign, a dip in statistics over a 3 month period? An animation that goes viral on the Internet?

If you want to understand what is going on here there is much more to this story than a cute jingle, animation and millions of hits. The connections with suicide in this campaign are stark.

Safety Transport Victoria Quarterly incident statistics for HEAVY RAIL 2013 – 1st Quarter states that the average fatalities (excluding suicide) on Vic Rail is 2 per quarter. Serious injuries average 9 per quarter. Suicides average 32 per year or 8 per quarter (Rail-related suicides in Victoria, Analysis of databases and literature review. Therefore, non suicide related deaths on Vic Rail equate to only 25% of all rail fatalities. So it is clear that this campaign was designed to address the major cause of fatalities in Vic Rail, suicide. This is made clear in the documentary Hidden Tragedy of Rail Suicides. The Dumb Ways to Die video and campaign is designed to address the 75% of fatalities on Vic Rail, suicides. Why spend so much money on a campaign for the lowest cause of death on rail? The fact that the campaign has a focus on choice of death and mode of death indicates that suicide is the target topic. This was recognised by a number of countries that banned the campaign eg. The Russian Government banned the video in Feb 2103 stating:

“The song’s lyrics contains a description of different ways of committing suicide, such as: using drugs beyond their expiration date, standing on an edge of a platform, running across the rails, eating superglue and other. The animated personages demonstrate dangerous ways of suicide in attractive for children and teenagers comic format. The lines such as “hide in a dryer” and “what’s this red button do?” contain an incitement to commit those acts. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumb_Ways_to_Die).”

Of course the parodies of the Youtube hit have now developed into the most absurd endorsements of suicide. The clip ‘Fun Ways to Die’ (with 1.7 million hits and counting) tells of many ways to commit suicide including ‘telling your girlfriend her vajayjay smells like a skunk’. I am sure the loved ones of those who have committed suicide by train are devastated to be told that their loved one was ‘dumb’. For a better, more intelligent and realistic understanding of suicide perhaps more attention to research-based evidence would be more helpful (http://suicidepreventionaust.org/).

Of course all of this contradicts the fundamentals of suicide understanding, prevention and reporting. The Salvos, who know a thing or two about suicide and have instead have developed a Metro Transit Team to respond to the issue (http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Find-Us/Victoria/Melbourne614/melbourne614-services/SalvosMetroTransitTeams/). Many experts in suicide prevention argue that the Dumb Ways to Die type strategies are naïve and dangerous (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2220230/Schoolgirl-visited-suicide-sites-dead-train-tracks-Campaigners-ban-web-pages-glamorise-self-harm.html). The experts demand that:

‘They called for websites to be forced to remove content that glamorises suicide and self harm to help prevent any more deaths like that of the private school pupil from Hampstead’.

So, what commenced as a naïve and clever attempt to respond to the dilemma of suicides in Vic Metro may actually stupendously back fire. The Dumb Ways to Die video may indeed promote harm rather than prevent suicide. This is what social psychology calls ‘associative meaning’, creating an illusory correlation in meaning between two concepts and expectations.

As for claims of success, if Internet hits are the judge of success then one could claim that porn is successful, as if ethics has no connection to activity. Surely we should be much more discerning about what amounts to success in risk and safety. As for statistical claims based on a 3 month sample, this too breaks most accepted standards on statistical validation. So before people make claims of success perhaps they should look more closely at purpose and hidden tragedy embedded in naïve and ill informed strategies in risk and safety.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

2 Replies to “Dumb Ways To Die and A Strange Sense of Success”

  1. Some people is trying to maintain their lives with many kind of efforst. They put safety at the first priority. On the othe hand, some people have chosen a dumb way to die.
    Again, a good approach can save lifes. Petition, poster, slogan and any kind of promotion may decrease the numbers.

  2. Unfortunately, despite all good intentions, toxic by-products of many of these initiatives promote and foster anti-safe thinking and actions. BTW, no-one who suicides is ‘dumb’ and the idea of ‘choice’ regarding suicide is binary nonsense. Anything that drives scepticism and cynicism towards safety such as this campaign is not about ‘saving lives’.

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