How did Dumb Ways To Die become so successful and go crazy viral instantly - deep case study of the worldwide sensation (11 min read)

Dumb Ways To Die  - a short, animated video on YouTube which makes for an educational material about how to stay safe, among others, near trains and metros. It was a part of a bigger social campaign to raise people’s awareness about staying safe near trains.

The video quickly reached nearly 30 million views and now, 8 years from its publication, it has 214 million views in total as this text is being written. It has become probably the most popular public service announcement (PSA) ever.

?Strategy & Tools

Dumb Ways to die viral History Timeline

  • 31st October 2012 – the YouTube channel Dumb Ways to Die is created by a small group of Melbournians, who constituted a part of a bigger train network operation team, Metro Trains Melbourne.
  • 15th November 2012 – the video with the same title as the channel name gets published on YouTube as the first material published on this channel.
  • November 2012 – the video quickly went viral and in two weeks time it got 28 million views (and it kept increasing).
  • The video's song itself quickly became one of the Top 10 on iTunes. By July 2013 it had sold about 100,000 copies to the users.
  • December 2013 – the phrase "dumb ways to die" scored its peak regarding YouTube search (according to Google Trends).
  • The creators used their video's success to their advantage and came up with a mobile game of the same title. The game has now more than 50 million downloads and more than 500,000 reviews on Google Play (mostly positive).
  • The YouTube channel now has more than 900,000 subscribers and is full of various (more and less popular) videos which keep referring to the topic of staying safe on the streets.
  • The original Dumb Ways to Die video has reached now more than 214 million views.

Dumb Ways to Die viral - The aim of the campaign

The video was part of a social campaign to raise people’s safety around the trains. The problem is serious, as the number of train-related accidents in Australia at the time the video was published exceeded 160 per year. Between 2009 and 2014 there were more than 800 accidents involving railway trains and trams. The most common types of accidents were pedestrians colliding with a train (42%) and cars colliding with a train (39%). It seems that a bit more of awareness would save hundreds of lives.

How Dumb Ways to Die communicated old in a new way

The video success lies partly in the fact that it touched upon an important, social problem of the train-related death rates.

Presenting an important issue in a new and innovative way increased people's interest and drew their attention towards the problem. Now, what seems to be more interesting, and what do you think would be more effective as a social campaign ad? A funny music video like Dumb Ways to Die, or a simple, yet grim and horrifying poster, like that one below?

Dumb Ways to Die Catchy tune

The foundation of the popularity of the video is undeniably its soundtrack. The music is vivid and rhythmic, and that makes the song very easy to sing along even for the youngest viewers.

The song's individual success on iTunes proves that statement.

Dumb Ways To Die PSA

A public service announcement (PSA) is a message spread on the Internet in order to discuss some social problem and raise people's awareness regarding certain topics. The video as well as the whole channel were a part of the social campaign to increase people's awareness of the dangers awaiting them when they commute and travel (for example, when they are near trains).

The video probably became the most popular PSA material ever published. As the authors state on their website, millions of people have pledged they would stay safe around trains thanks to their video and games.

Advertising the campaign outside the Internet

The campaign also reached press and radio. Soon after publishing the song on iTunes, commercial radio started to play the track for free and, simultaneously, eliminated the need to pay for the future ads.

Several ads of the campaign were also placed in the public, like on billboards and posters around the Australia. Characters from the video were also put on stickers, which were then stuck around metros and train stations. They depicted train-related ways to die, known from the YT video, and served as a humorous warning to stay safe.

Multiple platforms

Although everything started on YouTube, it was moving to other platforms, such as iTunes (with the song) and Google Plays (with the mobile game apps) that gave Dumb Ways to Die a solid boost to popularity.

Keeping Dumb Ways To Die YouTube channel alive

It was also crucial to keep the YouTube channel alive by uploading more and more videos. This way, the channel kept its high position on the search results as it continued to generate new content.

When creating on YouTube, it is important to know its algorithms, which decide who and what will see. The key factor here is to design your materials in line with those algorithms. That will increase your popularity and boost the number of views.

Dumb Ways To Die GIFs

Apart from YouTube and iTunes, the team decided to create some GIFs from their video, and then share them on Tumblr and Reddit. It was a great idea, which resulted in an additional boost of the YT video’s number of views. Tumblr was especially effective here, as their GIFs there gained immediate attention from the users.

They kept it clear but not shocking

The song is very simple, and each verse describes a different way to… die, of course.

Not all examples are strictly related to the trains, but each of them is clearly stated – both in the song's lyrics and visually in the video.

Most of the contemporary social campaign aim to shock people and very often frighten them. Their goal is to make their viewer “be afraid” of doing something, INSTEAD of trying to change their way of thinking about the problem itself. In Dumb Ways to Die the author wanted to TEACH, but not PREACH, and that was a big difference!

Sharing community

YouTube, Google Play, iTunes and other similar platforms are generally focused around their users. This means that users' opinion decide about some app's or song's success or failure. The more people like your stuff and share it to their friends and wherever they wish, the greater the chance your things will become viral.

The platforms the authors of the video used are the most popular on the market. They have tons of visitors on a daily basis, and they keep growing. Being noticed and distinct there often is a straight path to fame.

Dumb Ways To Die website

The most of the campaign materials directed the viewers to the campaign’s website with a single button, clicking which meant that the person officially “pledge” to stay safe around trains. It was a kind of CTA element. Its aim was not merely to convey a message, but genuinely influence the viewers’ behaviour.

Dumb Ways To Die campaign’s results

The results were astounding. According to Melbourne Metro Trains, over 44,000 people pledged they would avoid doing “dumb things” around trains. The numbers confirm that. Between November and January (the first months of the video’s going viral) the rate of “near-misses” dropped from 13.29 to 9.17.

Moreover, the Metro Trains also reported that the rate of train-related accidents had dropped by 21% (as of 2013).

Google Play

?Psychology behind Dumb Ways To Die

Bizarreness effect

What awes us, gets our attention. That's a simple mechanism which explains how we remember things. The video is strange, as the positive tone of the song doesn't match the seriousness of the situations shown on the screen. All of this resembles a well-known cartoon for adults, titled Happy Tree Friends. Even the style of the animations is a bit similar here.

Cognitive dissonance

The fact that the video's song doesn't match the topic because of its positive character and vivid melody creates a cognitive dissonance. It occurs when things we experience don't match with what we know. It makes us want to learn more and discover the uniqueness of what we observe.

Psychology of Colours

Although the video presents drastic scenes of deaths, using animated, colourful, unidentified "life forms" (a kind of jelly beans?) makes it much easier to digest for the viewers and even leaves some humorous effect.

Humour Effect

You can't say that this video is not… funny in some way? OK, it's a very specific kind of humour, but it can still make you laugh, or smile, at least, right?

All that cognitive dissonance and the overall bizarreness make it even funnier when those colourful jelly beans dance and sing despite being cut into pieces, electrified to death or burnt to ashes. That's what Happy Tree Friends also did, and it was very effective then, too.


The video is about “DUMB” ways to die. As Chloe Alsop, Metro Trains marketing manager, says, “it’s really hard to get hit by a train.” Well, indeed, it is! However, the video included many more examples of “less rational” ways to end your life.

In fact, it was a compilation of the least likely – you could think – ways to die, and who would like to be that “dumb”? In general, people prefer to be seen as smart and intelligent. There are not many more things as shameful as ending your life in a silly way, which could be very easily avoided. “Be smart – don’t die like that!”, says the video’s message.


The aftermath of the campaign’s big success was a book for children, filled with pictures taken out of the video and presented in a not less humorous, child-friendly way to teach the youngest how to behave near train stations and railways.

?Window of Opportunity

Dumb Ways to Die is a perfect example of how to make a boring, social campaign announcement more interesting and go viral. A simple change in framework and style may conclude in amazing results!

Critics and various websites agree that the key factor here was the song. Think of adding a catchy tune to an ad you are going to design. Good and easy to remember music may skyrocket the popularity of your product or service.

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