A public safety video for an aboveground railway system in Australia has found some unexpected traction after becoming a viral hit on YouTube. Since debuting Nov. 14, the clip, titled "Dumb Ways to Die," has racked a staggering 30 million views, leading to dozens of user-created covers and, in turn, sales.
The campaign was created by ad agency McCann on behalf of Down Under's Melbourne Metro. "The brief from the client was to create something that would get the idea through to young people that dangerous behavior around trains was a very bad idea," says John Mescall, executive creative director of McCann Worldgroup Australia. "We knew we had to do something not only different, but very sharable. So we thought about what the complete opposite of a serious safety message would be, and came to the conclusion it was an insanely happy and cute song."
The result -- the colorful, three-minute "Dumb Ways to Die" clip -- is set to a cheerfully morose jingle and features a cast of equally cheerful animated characters singing about dying in increasingly absurd scenarios, with only a slight nod to Metro at the end.
Mescall wrote and tweaked the lyrics of the song himself before commissioning Ollie McGill of the Cat Empire to turn them into a catchy tune. Emily Lubitz of Tinpan Orange provided the vocals, adding the touch of ironic playfulness needed to pull off a cheery song about death. Together, McGill and Lubitz became Tangerine Kitty, which is credited for the track on both YouTube and iTunes.
Initially, McGill and Lubitz preferred to remain anonymous. "I don't usually do advertising work and when I do (a girl's gotta make a living!) I always make sure I'm not named," Lubitz wrote in an email to Billboard. "But when the clip went viral we decided to reveal that it was me singing. We figure, if it can lead some folks to my other work" -- Tinpan Orange's "Over the Sun" was released in September -- "it would all be worth it."
Despite having received no airplay to date, "Dumb Ways to Die" has sold more than 10,000 copies in three weeks, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Its 30 million YouTube hits have led to 80-plus cover versions and 90 parodies, adding more than 3.2 million hits from earned media.
Mescall attributes the success of the song to its entertaining video and a carefully planned digital strategy. "We leveraged the platforms most relevant to the target audience -- teenagers and young adults," he says. "The fact that it's tackling a subject matter that is normally communicated via shock tactics helps. People appreciate that Metro has made the effort to both inform and entertain without hitting people over the head."