Spreading the Word: Campaigns that Socialise Public Safety Messaging

11 November 2013Behavioural Insights Unit


Tagscase study, media, nsw, policy

In recent years, government has produced some innovative campaigns aimed at behaviour change, many of which have been especially successful at harnessing the power of social media.

Dumb ways to die

In recent years, government has produced some innovative campaigns aimed at behaviour change, many of which have been especially successful at harnessing the power of social media.

One of the biggest success stories is Dumb Ways to Die, the ad campaign from Melbourne Metro Trains promoting public safety. This animated piece combines endearing animation with a catchy tune, and uses an approach very rarely used by government, of bringing humour to public safety messaging.

Within 24 hours of its launch in November 2012, the song had reached the top 10 charts on iTunes and the video has since amassed close to 64 million views (at time of posting), attracting massive global attention for Metro Trains’ safety messages. Not only is the campaign the most awarded in the history of Cannes (it won 28 Lions, including 5 Grand Prix), but most importantly, it has led to a 21% reduction in train accidents, and 14 million people have stated that they would be safer around trains because of the campaign.

Visit the campaign website and you will be able to see some of the elements that make up their formula for success. 

The campaign covers most of the EAST principles (which we regularly use in behavioural insights). Here is how:

  • EASY: Language used on the site is snappy and informal, making it really easy to understand the message
  • ATTRACTIVE: The animation is attractive, humorous and likeable, and the website is interactive, including games and pledge buttons. Furthermore, the use of an infectious tune popularises the message even further
  • SOCIAL: The campaign is easily shareable, contributing to the success of its reach. The website links users directly and simply to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and to other products like the Dumb Ways to Die app and the song on iTunes. Making the ad easily shareable through social media removes the government as messenger and turns friends and contacts in to conduits for the message
  • SOCIAL: Emphasis is placed on inverting social norms, which transforms risky behaviour in to ‘dumb’ behaviour.

A second strong example of an effective government campaign comes from New Zealand. As part of their Safer Journeys strategy to improve road safety, NZ Transport recently released ‘Blazed’, which focuses on the impact of driving under the influence of drugs.

The campaign targets drivers in their thirties and forties who smoke cannabis but consider themselves as ‘sensible stoners’. It aims to influence long-term behavioural change within this group, and the perception that they’re ok to drive after using cannabis.

The approach taken to the wider campaign utilises community ‘experts’ to communicate that driving under the influence of drugs has an impact on road safety. The expert messengers in this ad are children, who mimic their dads and the way in which they drive when under the influence. The different behavioural traits they have observed are delivered in a really humorous and cheeky way, but the message is sobering – these boys look up to their dads and have observed their behaviour.

You may have seen the ‘Ghost Chips’ ad before from the same campaign (actual ad name is ‘Legend’), which went viral back in 2011. This stands as another great example of a government ad campaign that socialises an important public safety message. With over 2.5 million views (more than 1 million of those notched up in under two weeks), not only has this ad nailed its target demographic, it has managed to popularise a message amongst a group that has not been affected by traditional drunk driving ads. The ad aims to shift social norms around drink driving by highlighting that peers have a responsibility to help their mates by encouraging them not to drive while under the influence. 

And finally, one of our personal favourites from NSW is Get Your Hand Off It, the Transport for NSW ad campaign targeted at Gen Y that aims to appeal to this demographic through a humorous spoof music video. This ad has reached 610,000 views on YouTube, cutting through traditional television advertising to reach its audience through social media.

Notably, all of these examples hail from Transport Authorities – what is it about their campaigns that make them so effective?

From a BI perspective, these ads reflect many of the elements of the MINDSPACE framework and EAST principles in action:

  • EASY: Their messages are simple and repetitive. The campaigns use informal language, rather than ‘government speak’ and aren’t heavily branded as government campaigns
  • ATTRACTIVE: They are well-produced and easily recallable advertisements, which keep public safety messages top of mind (especially if they have a catchy jingle!
  • SOCIAL: Humour increases the popularity of the ads and ensures that messages are social and are shared through social networks. They invert social norms with a message that is well-delivered and popularised i.e. ‘dumb ways to die’, ‘stop a mate from driving drunk – legend’
  • MESSENGERS are used that are powerful and salient to the demographic i.e. peers and children
  • They use COMMITMENT devices to encourage people to change their behaviour or promote a certain acceptable behaviour i.e. make a pledge, spread the message amongst your friends.