When Dumb Ways to Die Becomes a Meme

When we talk about train safety campaign, we usually cannot come up with any example that could stick into our minds. Safety advertisements, especially government ones, tend to use fear to attract attentions and deliver message as directly as possible. After Metro Trains Melbourne released their latest public service announcement, Dumb Ways to Die, it received great attention not only from Australia but all around the world.

It is an animated music video created by the McCann advertising agency, featuring a variety of cartoon characters that dying in unusual ways. The song from the video, Dumb Ways to Die, was written by John Mescall and performed by Ollie McGill from the Australian band The Cat Empire. It has been released on iTunes and reached the top 10 on iTunes’ global charts. The catchy song is the key reason that the campaign would become a success. The purpose of the campaign is to promote train safety and reduce the number of train accidents. Its target audiences are children and young generation who usually pay less attention to traditional public safety massages. The video has become a viral and generated 2.7 million YouTube views in just 48 hours. After two weeks, the clip amassed more than 28 million views and 35,000 comments on YouTube. To date, it receives more than 90 million views on YouTube and that is impressive. According to Metro Trains, the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign has contributed a 21% reduction in “near-miss” accidents in 2013 compared to 2012.

Statistic from Google Trends shows that the search interest of Dumb Ways to Die reached its highest point at June 2013.

Google trends

Source: Google Trends

With the help of social media, Dumb Ways to Die becomes much easier to share and discuss. Recent article claims that active internet users tend to share positive content and upbeat stories rather than things that make others sad or upset. Dumb Ways to Die has the power of positivity and it results in an internet hit. Metro Trains Melbourne then uploaded a karaoke version to encourage viewers create their own version of the song.

Therefore, Dumb Ways to Die not only becomes a viral video but becomes a meme. Sydney Morning Herald reported that Dumb Ways to Die inspiring more than 65 cover versions, 85 parodies and 170 re-posts on YouTube. The term of meme introduced by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

A meme is a concept of information that spreads from person to person in a specific culture and environment. Recent article from WIRED describes meme as an idea, behavior or style that spreads viral from brain to brain and IP address to IP address. In a nutshell, the process of meme can be called imitation. A meme can be a gif, video, photo, commercial and image macro. The use of internet meme is a cost-effective way to create conversations about certain issue or trendiness.


Source: Know Your Meme

Here are some notable examples of different version of Dumb Ways to Die. On November 28th, after original version uploaded on YouTube just two days, the LaughPong YouTube channel uploaded a Mars version titled “Cool Things to Find”.

It was produced by Seattle-based creative team Cinesaurus. Within 24 hours, the video accumulated over 145,000 views and 390 comments on YouTube. Teddie Films also created their “The Walking Dead” themed parody of “Dumb ways to die”. It used dark-humored musical safety message for keeping alive around zombies and made fun on characters from The Walking Dead. The video has received more than 1 million YouTube views and 2,600 comments.

Other parodies and covers including a classic rock version arranged and played by Marco Arata, a take from YouTube band The DDL Boys and a clip to teach people how to play the original song with guitar and ukulele. There is also a scary version titled “Dumb Ways 2 Die – Real Life”, producing by YouTube channel Levan Nomone. It features clips of real people doing dumb things.


All in all, there are many creative versions on YouTube showing their love to Dumb Ways to Die. Those videos and images are the best proof that the campaign goes success to gain great awareness and becomes a well-known example of internet meme.