Dumb Ways To Die Was Born Out Of Simplicity

I always like to read “how they did that” accounts of good advertising work. On Adweek today, there’s a good account of McCann Australia’s effort for train safety, which features a video showing “Dumb Ways To Die.” Frankly, this song is so damn catchy I downloaded it, burned it to a CD and am playing it in my car. It actually puts me in a good mood.

But if Adweek’s story is right, the whole idea was born of simplicity and letting creatives have fun with contrarian thinking. There were a couple of points that stuck out to me:

“The idea for a song started from a very simple premise: What if we disguised a worthy safety message inside something that didn’t feel at all like a safety message?” said McCann executive creative director John Mescall. “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.”

Then Mescall wrote the lyrics mostly in one night, tweaking a little bit afterward to make it better. Then, it came time to set it to music and animation:

Australian musician Ollie McGill from the band The Cat Empire wrote the music. “We basically gave him the lyrics and told him to set it to the catchiest nonadvertising type music he could,” said Mescall…Australian designer Julian Frost did the animation. “We gave him the most open brief we could: Just make it really funny and really awesome and do it to please yourself.”

Wow. Was it really as simple as having people do the kind of work that they would be pleased with?

That’s a lesson for any marketer. Now granted, this is for a PSA with no product to sell, but I bet most CMOs would kill for their own “Dumb Ways To Die.” Perhaps the secret is to let creatives be…creative.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. “Let creative be creatives” is great advise for brands who actually want to move the needle.

    I might add that creatives need to own their own power and be creative regardless of the circumstances. It’s a topic I just explored on Bonehook.com: http://bonehook.com/2012/12/03/make-some-noise-is-right-for-fans-but-wrong-for-brands/