Cute but disempowering

Using cute animations and a catchy tune, Melbourne-based Metro Trains recently launched a public safety announcement. The video ‘Dumb ways to die’ immediately went viral on social media, breaking a long tradition of horrible safety videos showing people falling, heads cracked open, kids getting hit by cars, and so on.

The fresh take aside, the message is not new. In fact, it conveys a very traditional message: that the system is safe, but sometimes gets compromised by unreliable humans. As such, it repeats judgemental ideas about accidents: If accidents happen, it is because people are dumb!

By all means, it doesn’t say anything about how Metro Trains invests in designing platforms or boom gates in such a way that accidents are less likely. Singlehandedly it puts emphasis on one of the many factors behind accidents. Which is perhaps hard not to do in only three minutes. But they suggest that this part, the human part, is so unreliable that train operators can only ask people to not do some things. People, behave! In effect, it is a disempowering attempt to create safety.

I’m not sure ‘Dumb ways to die’ is a smart way to improving safety.


  1. Nicholas Duck Reply

    We can learn a lot about the mechanics they used to communicate the safety message. It’s incredibly effective. However, I agree that the message is wrong. It also trivialises the deaths of good people and is an endless reminder to the grieving that their son, daughter etc are “dumb”.

    That said, if deaths go down as a result of the campaign, is it a good campaign regardless of the message or does it have I unintended consequences?

  2. Rob Long Reply

    Good piece Daniel. Of course all the little characters self harm, and its not about ‘accidents’ anyway. It’s what you get when you go to a marketing agency to tackle an issue in risk – you end up with the nonsense that hits on the internet validate effectiveness. The myth about safety being about intelligence is a total distraction from the reality and simply dumbs down people more in a dumb down approach to risk.

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