Ad Space – Dumb Ways to Die

You are now entering Ad Space, a realm of commercials, brought before us so we might examine how they work, and discuss why we both love and hate them so. So it is written …

The Product:
… not getting hit by trains.

The Promotion:

The Pitch:
Uh … something about safety, I think … look, let’s just mutilate some more cartoon characters, okay?

Sometimes, advertisers can have a little too much fun. This Public Service Announcement, made by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, is supposed to warn viewers to avoid risky behaviors around train tracks. And it does do that .. for a total of maybe 20 seconds out of a three minute ad.

I get what it’s going for. Show these cartoon thingamabobs doing some incredibly stupid stuff that gets them killed, then show them doing some common reckless behavior around trains, with similarly deadly results. Should be a clear message: these behaviors are just as dangerous and stupid as “teach yourself to fly / eat a two-week old unrefrigerated pie”, so don’t do them.

But the dangers they’re warning people against make up such a small portion of the ad, passing by with no greater emphasis than the dozen other dumb ways to die, I have to wonder how much of an impression they actually made.

The ad itself made an impression, for sure. The video went viral in 2012, and its success saw it spun off into a series of mobile games. And it’s not hard to see why: the combination of cartoon cutesiness and grim, often gory events hits that sweet spot of being transgressive enough to be funny, but not going so far it becomes uncomfortable to watch.

It’s a memorable ad, I’m just not sure if what people remember from it will actually keep them from getting run over by trains … which is, y’know, what the advertisers were paid to do.

(Metro Trains says it had fewer “near-misses” the year after the ad came out, but whether that’s because of the ad would require a lot more data and a lot more analysis than I’m prepared to do.)