The campaign was devised by advertising agency McCann Melbourne. It appeared in newspapers, local radio, outdoor advertising, throughout the Metro Trains network and on Tumblr. John Mescall, executive creative director of McCann, said "The aim of this campaign is to engage an audience that really doesn't want to hear any kind of safety message, and we think Dumb Ways To Die will." McCann estimated that within two weeks, it had generated at least $50 million worth of global media value in addition to more than 700 media stories, for "a fraction of the cost of one TV ad". According to Metro Trains, the campaign contributed to a more than 30% reduction in "near-miss" accidents, from 13.29 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2011 – January 2012, to 9.17 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2012 – January 2013.
A video was developed by Pat Baron, animated by Julian Frost, and produced by Cinnamon Darvall. It was uploaded to YouTube on 14 November 2012 and made public two days later. It featured "21 characters killing themselves in increasingly stupid ways" culminating in the last three characters being killed by trains due to unsafe behavior. It was viewed 2.5 million times within 48 hours and 4.7 million times within 72 hours. Within two weeks, the video had been viewed 30 million times.As of February 2017, the video has received over 145 million views.
McCann released an "Official Karaoke Edition" of the video on 26 November 2012.
The song "Dumb Ways to Die" from the video was written by John Mescall with music by Ollie McGill from The Cat Empire, who also produced it. It was performed by Emily Lubitz, the lead vocalist of Tinpan Orange, with McGill providing backing vocals. The band on the recording consists of Gavin Pearce on Bass, Danny Faruggia on drums and Brett Wood on guitar. It was released on iTunes, attributed to the artist "Tangerine Kitty" (a reference to Tinpan Orange and The Cat Empire).Charts
In May 2013, Metro released a "Dumb Ways to Die" game as an app for iOS devices. The game, developed by Julian Frost and Samuel Baird, invites players to avoid the dangerous activities engaged in by the various characters featured throughout the campaign. Within the app, players can also pledge to "not do dumb stuff around trains." The activities include things like getting toast out with a fork and poking a stick at a grizzly bear. An Android version was also eventually released in September 2013.
The aim of the game is to earn as many points as possible by avoiding "dying" in one of the activities. Lives can be lost by "dying" in one of the activities. The player has three chances to prevent the characters from dying.
A sequel was made in November 2014. In the sequel, there are a lot more varieties of challenges in each particular building, and each building has a particular theme. Before a train arrives at a building, the player plays a challenge to counter something related to trains. If successful, bonus points can be earned at the end of the game. There are 8 challenges each in every building. Like the original game, the game's characters do plenty of dangerous and unsafe activities. Lives can be lost by "dying" in one of the activities. The player has three chances to prevent the characters from dying.
Susie O'Brien in the Herald Sun in Melbourne criticised the ad for trivialising serious injuries and being about advertisers' ego rather than effective safety messages.
Simon Crerar of the Herald Sun wrote that the song's "catchy chorus was the most arresting hook since PSY's Gangnam Style." Alice Clarke writing in the Herald Sun described the video as "adorably morbid" and wrote that Victoria's public transport "broke its long running streak of terrible ads".
Daisy Dumas of the Sydney Morning Herald described it as "darkly cute — and irksomely catchy" and the chorus as "instant earworm material".
Michelle Starr of CNET described the campaign as "The Darwin Awards meets The Gashlycrumb Tinies" and the song as "a cutesy indie-pop hit in the style of Feist".
Logan Booker of Gizmodo described it as "taking a page out of the Happy Tree Friends book and mixing cute with horrifying".
Karen Stocks of YouTube Australia said the video was unusual due to the high number of views from mobile devices. Stocks attributed the success to "A snappy headline. A catchy tune that gets stuck in your head. And a message that is easy to understand and perfectly targeted."
The Sunshine Coast Daily described it as "the Gangnam Style of train safety campaigns".
Arlene Paredes of the International Business Times said the video was "brilliant in getting viewers' attention" and "arguably one of the cutest PSAs ever made."
The campaign received some criticism on the basis that suicide is one of the most influential causes of rail trauma, and the ad reinforces deadly trains as a possible suicide method. Writing in Mumbrella in February 2013, a former employee of Victoria's Department of Infrastructure advised critical thinking when evaluating claims made regarding improvements to safety. Reference was made specifically to the claimed 20 percent reduction in risky behavior as being "social media bullshit".
In February 2013, Artemy Lebedev's blog was censored by Roskomnadzor, the Russian government agency in charge of Internet censorship, for including the video. Later that day, the YouTube video was also censored, with the "This content is not available in your country due to a legal complaint from the government" message. The official takedown notice sent to Livejournal.com was quoted, in part, by Lebedev in his blog.
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.
Despite this fact, the video was included into ABC Show and was shown in more than 50 cities of Russia.
The campaign won seven Webby Awards in 2013 including the Best Animation Film & Video and Best Public Service & Activism (Social Content & Marketing).
It won three Siren Awards, run by Commercial Radio Australia, including the Gold Siren for best advertisement of the year and Silver Sirens for the best song and best campaign.
The public service announcement was awarded the Grand Trophy in the 2013 New York Festivals International Advertising Awards.
In June 2013, the campaign clip won the Integrated Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and overall, won five Grand Prix awards, 18 Gold Lions, three Silver Lions, and two Bronze Lions, which was the most for the campaign in the festival's history.
Within two weeks, the video had spawned over 85 parodies. Some renditions and parodies have been featured in national and international media:"Cool Things to Find" - featuring the Curiosity Mars rover. Cinesaurus noted that it took them six days and 250 man hours to create.
"Dumb Movie Ways to Die" - from The Movie Maniacs parodies well known "dumb" movie deaths from famous films.
"Dumb Ways to Die (In Video Games) Parody"
"Dumb Ways to Die (Minecraft Edition)"
"Grand Theft Auto V: Dumb Ways to Die"
Dumb Ways to Die - Game of Thrones Edition
"Dumb Ways to Die - Miami/ESPM" by Miami Ad School in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (No longer available in YouTube due to copyright claim by Metro Trains Melbourne)
My Little Pony Dumb Ways to Die - a version featuring the ponies from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
"Annoying Ways to Die" from Annoying Orange, as noted by Socialtimes
"The Walking Dead + Dumb Ways to Die Parody" - live-action parody of characters from The Walking Dead
"Smart Ways to Live" by The Maccabeats - a cappella version as noted by Arutz Sheva.
"Dumb Ways to Die - Happy Tree Friends Edition"
"Fun Ways to Die"
"Queremos Vivir en Caracas"
Due to their success, the Dumb Ways to Die characters have been featured in a promotional campaign for Empire Life Insurance, with their key message being, "the dumbest way to die is without life insurance." However, the campaign was met with mixed reviews, with some advertising critics accusing Metro of "selling out" on a successful campaign.
On October 17, 2014, the Dumb Ways to Die website was revamped to hint at a new installment of the campaign. Slated for release in November 2014, the games take on a more sporting, athletic, and fitness theme, and is labelled "Dumb Ways to Die 2: The Games".Metro Trains was also supporting the Melbourne International Film Festival and decided to create a video to keep safe around that event.
The song was used in the 45th episode of the 7th season of Chinese dating show If You Are The One during a contestant's introduction video. It is unclear if the song's origin or morbid lyrics were known to the editors of the show, who likely chose it purely for its cheery sound.