An animated video with 180 million views on Youtube, a song that, just hours after its launch, enters the top 10 iTunes chart, an advergame that topped the charts in 83 countries with over 130 million downloads worldwide, 28 Lions and 5 Grand Prix awards won at the 2013 International Festival of Creativity in Cannes. These are just some of the accolades of “Dumb Ways to Die,” a Public Service Announcement campaign so effective that it helped to reduce accidents in Australian railway stations by 21%.

The “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign is an interesting case history of ambient marketing (Marco Buratti, Reacting marketing and real-time communication). It was conceived and developed by McCann’s Australian division in November 2012 on behalf of the Melbourne Metro, with the aim of raising passengers’ awareness of the need for safe behaviour.

The tone of voice chosen was unique, and not at all like the service communications that users were accustomed to. This choice succeeded in intercepting our attention by displacing us, intriguing us, and pushing us to an amused awareness. In the video, a series of two-dimensional characters perform a group sing-along and proceed to kill themselves by doing ridiculous things like setting fire to their hair, taking expired medicines, teasing a grizzly bear. Only at the end is the true intention of the ad revealed—for viewers to be safe around trains.


“Dumb Ways to Die”: an excellent starting point to talk about ambient marketing, integrated campaigns, inbound marketing

“Dumb Ways to Die” is one of the most brilliant examples of an integrated campaign in recent years, where video is at the center of a full range of communication tools (a website, a book, print and radio advertising, TV commercials, and billboards) that work together.

“Dumb Ways to Die” is many things:

  1. It is an example of “ambient marketing” that, in perfect Guerrilla style, “identifies the places of spontaneous aggregation of its audiences and conveys the values of the brand in these contexts (…) It merges with the surrounding environment, synchronizing targets, place, time, and action.” (Buratti, 2016).
  2. It is a structured marketing action aimed at the community, organized to convey messages of public interest (media advocacy) and able to act on the habits of people (127 million said they feel safer after seeing the campaign).
  3. It is a very successful inbound marketing experiment, which has “seduced” and convinced institutional subjects, influencers and targets.

How does the unconventional marketing of this brilliant campaign, and more generally the innovative tactics of guerrilla marketing, fit within the perimeter of Inbound methodologies? What role do animated videos play? Before we venture into the search for answers, let’s try to provide some coordinates.


From Interruption marketing to Permission marketing: how advertising changes

The context

In 2011, at the beginning of the first chapter of one of his most famous books (Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers), Seth Godin describes what until the advent of the Internet had been the main mechanism behind advertising:

“You can define advertising as the science of creating and placing media that interrupts the consumer and then gets him or her to take some action.” (source)

Writing at the dawn of a new era (the web was “born” in 1991) Godin identifies the red line that until then and for almost a century had shaped the communication of companies to consumers: “For ninety years, marketers have relied on one form of advertising almost exclusively. I call it Interruption Marketing. Interruption, because “the key to each and every ad is to interrupt what the viewers are doing in order to get them to think about something else.” (source)

A necessary premise is the theme of attention, which will become more and more central: “Advertising is not why we pay attention. Yet marketers must make us pay attention for the ads to work. If they don’t interrupt our train of thought by planting some sort of seed in our conscious or subconscious, the ads fail. Wasted money. If an ad falls in the forest and no one notices, there is no ad.” (source)


The consumer

By shifting the focus to the consumer, Godin identifies two trends that, at the time, were growing and destined to become more important over time.

1) In the face of an advertising market increasingly crowded with messages, interrupting the consumer becomes even more difficult. At the same time, an important figure emerges in the data collected by We Are Social and Hootsuite in their 2019 Digital Global Report: almost half of the Internet users (47%) worldwide use ad blockers (in Italy the percentage is around 35%).

2) As the quality of the products offered by brands in hyper-competitive markets increases, the consumer finds himself able to choose between valid alternatives and is called upon to use his time – the most precious resource – to recognize nuances and details of products with often very similar characteristics. Confimprese’s latest report on the interactions between customers and companies in both physical and virtual retail locations outlines a profile in further evolution:
– The company is attentive to the reputation and mission of its brands, which assert themselves as cultural figures;
– demanding service times and methods (for example, in the case of deliveries for e-commerce sites);
– looking for engaging experiences (experiential retail);
– which grants its preferences to e-commerce based on subscription;
– perfectly capable of juggling within an all-encompassing approach.

We are talking about a consumer who is at ease in engaging in complex, symmetrical, and bidirectional purchasing processes, who is able to select messages of interest and utility and who, in short, can no longer be so easily interrupted.

Permission Marketing and video: the necessary premise for the establishment of inbound strategies

The same time that Seth Godin describes the limits of Interruption marketing, the economic, social, and cultural context is facing the dawn of Digital Transformation. People are quickly getting used to a new type of communication, which the main business areas are forced to confront if they want to take advantage of the infinite possibilities that the web promises. To ride the long wave that is about to overwhelm the traditional media, it is then necessary to rethink advertising, starting by recognizing the right of potential consumers to decide, respond, and participate. Even the right (Godin speaks of “power“) to ignore it, advertising. In short, it’s time to start asking for “permission.”


The key phrase is to pay attention

“Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they actually are paying you with something valuable. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.” (Godin, 1999). (Source)

Permission marketing can therefore be defined as the privilege – in no way a right – to reach the target audience with appropriate, personal and relevant messages. Once again, the real game is played on the ability to attract and maintain the attention of potential customers, the real currency of the new media (important, in this regard, the study of Acuity, Attention: the new media currency, which can be downloaded here), while respecting consumers who are increasingly aware, attentive, and selective.

Inbound marketing grasps the whole revolutionary scope of this change of pace. Hubspot, who coined the term in 2005, defines it as follows: “Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have.”

Hubspot places inbound marketing within a wider movement, in which business logic changes, reorganizing around a simple but enlightening idea: to invest in the relationship even after prospects have become customers, continuing to help them, inspire them, inform them, amuse them.

Back to the starting point: how to build a brilliant marketing campaign (Guerrilla and Inbound) around an animated video

1. The “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign intelligently uses tools typical of unconventional marketing and at the same time remains within the scope of Permission marketing. How does it do it? On the one hand, it shares with the warfare tactics of Guerrilla with the ability to impose itself on its target, disorienting it and at the same time releasing that surplus of meaning that exceeds and re-symbolizes the literal message: the characters dying as a result of ridiculous acts function as memorable reminder of information necessary for a specific target (train and metro passengers). On the other hand, the content is distributed in ways that do not break people’s habits but work within them. This is content that, in order to be enjoyed, requires a voluntary and conscious investment of time and attention. It is content that requires permission to be watched.

2. The campaign “Dumb Ways to Die” implements strategic inbound solutions by:

– designing valuable content and tailor-made experiences (at the end of the main video and the many clips that have become viral, the Metro Train in Melbourne always includes information about safety “around the trains” and an invitation to be careful);

not interrupting recipients of its communication with content they do not want (messages are communicated in a non-intrusive way – for example, they are transmitted on station monitors or distributed on dedicated digital channels);

creating the connections that those particular clusters of people are looking for (anyone taking public transport has a “vital” interest);

providing answers to real problems (even if only perceived problems); for example, commuters often have repetitive daily programs and very low attention thresholds.

In the middle of the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign we find an animated video that treats a potentially delicate theme (fatal accidents) with a light-hearted tone. This highlights the power of graphic animation.


The superpowers of animated video

In its 2019 Video Marketing Statistics, Wyzowl records some of the evidence from interviews with marketing experts:

  • 94% say video has helped increase understanding of their product or service.
  • 84% said videos helped them increase traffic to their website.
  • 81% said videos helped them generate leads.
  • 80% say videos have increased the time targets spend on the website.

With such dramatic results, the close relationship between marketing and video continues. Brands need perfectly calibrated content, able to consistently communicate the company’s values to increasingly defined audiences, in a race towards narrowcasting that does not hint at slowing down. To fully exploit the potential of video, publishers, producers, and marketers can count on animation techniques that are continuously enriched with new features. Their essence, however, remains that of the first pioneering cartoons: telling engaging stories.

The reasons that animated videos are so effective have already been discussed extensively in a previous post. Here, we can recall three of their “super powers”. Animated videos:

  1. can furnish imaginary worlds (storytelling),
  2. allow moments of strong abstraction (explaining),
  3.  correspond to the real needs of viewers (personalization).

Personalized videos are among the interactive and personalized contents that Doxee allows you to create through its platform tools.
Thanks to personalized videos, Doxee can transport the viewer to magical place, ensuring the viewer a rich, informative, and meaningful experience.