Dumb Ways to Measure Effectiveness
Guest article by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com – it wasn’t hard, when it was first released, to see through the cuteness and catchy tune and predict how ineffective this campaign would prove long term! As George used to say, all you have to do is take something away and if nothing happens then it was just a displacement activity to avoid working on the real problem.
Don’t miss Rob’s 10 Effective Safety Communications tips at the end of the article.
Finally it seems that some sense is entering the debate about the Dumb Ways to Die (DWTD) Youtube phenomenon (http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/safety-message-may-be-falling-off-20130914-2trrr.html). The naivety that has been circulated as sense about the effectiveness of this campaign has been nothing short of mind-boggling. And I notice that this campaign even makes the program of the next SIA Visions conference in Cairns as a benchmark for safety communication ‘cleverness’ (http://www.visions.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Visions-Program-Updated-10-Sept-2013-2.pdf). I am looking forward to sitting in on that presentation.
The idea that something is ‘effective’ judged by the number of hits on Youtube is simply dumb. On this criteria one can determine that PSY, Justin Beber, Jennifer Lopez and Eminem are ‘brilliant’. Number 6 on the Youtube charts at 554 million hits is ‘Charlie bit my Finger’ (http://www.youtube.com/charts/videos_views?t=a&gl=US) (DWTD sits at 58 mill). Now there’s an effective safety message! Just this week Miley Cyrus launched her semi-pornographic clip Wrecking Ball and it has doubled the hits of Dumb Ways to Die (100 million). So if effectiveness is judged by Youtube hits then having a fully nude 21 year old female swinging on a wrecking ball must be the ultimate in ‘clever’ communication. What nonsense, when will the safety community get some critical thought in order and include a component of ethics in their thinking. The Bloody Idiot campaign of TAC Victoria is in the same mindless unethical camp, since when did an unethical process justify a safety goal? (https://safetyrisk.net/whose-the-bloody-idiot/)
Well, at last the Age blows apart the dumb down thinking attributed to this campaign. You can read a previous post on this blog about this campaign (https://safetyrisk.net/dumb-ways-to-die-and-a-strange-sense-of-success/). When will the safety community include the psychology of goals in some of its thinking? No goal stands alone, there are always by-products and trade-offs in goals setting. Before we embark on praising some popular campaign, it might help to fist consider its ethical trajectory.
Let’s get a few things straight, the Dumb Ways to Die campaign was motivated by an increase in suicides on Vic rail, partially triggered by the pedestrian enclosure of the Westgate Bridge. The campaign, parodies and game that were generated by this catchy tune and animation actually promote (counter-intuitively) suicide. Ten months later, as published in The Age, we discover that near misses at Vic rail crossing have not only increased but statistics are now significantly (14%) higher than they were 5 years ago. Of course, due to ‘sunk cost effect’ the creators of the animation continue to defend the clip and claim interest is dropping off as it does in all campaigns. How convenient, it was never an ethical campaign and was never ‘clever communication’.
What makes for effective communication in safety? Here are a few tips:
Messages in safety must be consistent and ethical, there is no value in seeking to promote a safety message that contradicts itself. The end never justifies the means.
Designers of safety communications should be aware of the psychology of goals and the trajectory of messages. Judging effectiveness by populism ‘in the moment’ is blind and simplistic.
People who want to promote safety messages need to be aware of the ‘pitching’, ‘framing’ and ‘priming’ of language. The idea that words don’t matter contradicts the evidence, just ask anyone in advertising and marketing.
Safety people need to be longsighted when it comes to messages in safety and not grab the first bit of ‘noise’ that comes along.
Insulting and negative messages are ‘loss framed’ and are neither attractive nor motivational. Safety messages need to be ‘gain framed’.
Safety people need to study the nature of motivation and include such knowledge in the way they engage others.
George Robotham’s favourite saying was ‘When initiating change, Remember, People support what they create’. Safety people should consult and pilot messages and see if they work longitudinally before they start experimenting with yo-yos and fads.
A study of the psychology of goals would be useful for all safety people. The idea that goals are singular and simple drives naïve goals setting such as zero harm.
Risk and safety must above all make sense of risk. Projecting perfectionist messages on fallible people and organisations simply doesn’t make logical sense.
Consult and read Standards Australia’s brief publication HB 327:2010 Communicating and Consulting About Risk. A great place to start for any safety person.