Is it dumb to use humour to communicate a serious message?

Julian Jones
March 28, 2013

We are constantly saturated with earnest health warnings in advertising. So it’s been quite unusual to see such a serious theme as deaths related to train accidents treated humorously in the current ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign for Metro Trains.

DumbBlog

Images from the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ advertising campaign for train safety

We’re hardly the first to say it (the video has gone uber-viral, after all) but this campaign by McCann Worldgroup Australia to bring attention to train safety is a beauty: a wacky YouTube clip with cute characters and a catchy tune, reinforced by newspaper ads and station posters, all done in a whimsical graphic style. Notwithstanding the cute factor, the reason this campaign works is the same reason any good campaign works: a simple, single-minded, well-communicated message supported by the market exposure it requires.

There has been understandable scepticism about whether this campaign will have its intended effect (besides being a creatively applauded viral hit). Will it really reduce train deaths? This will be difficult to measure, but one thing’s for sure: it stands a better chance than a campaign that never gets noticed in the first place.

And one other effect of this campaign, without doubt, is that it will spawn imitation. It will prompt brands with similarly serious messages to consider whether their communications might be more effectively conveyed in a different way.

Maybe pharma communications could even do with a little more humour and charm. Not such a dumb idea?

Julian Jones is a Senior Designer at Wellmark

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