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Smart ways to engage

May 31, 2013

So my boys suddenly downloaded this app onto the iPad. “What’s it called?” I asked “Dumb ways to die!”
Moral panic – surely it’s not poking fun at suicide, some sick zombie-themed game?
No…it’s social marketing.
Well, at least it it’s Social Marketing Communications
Not that I’m being pedantic. But it is important to understand that communications can’t achieve everything.
The video here is a charming animation that depicts the game quite well – if you’d like download it free from the AppStore and give it a go. It’s entertainingly pointing out that doing stupid things on railway lines is…well, stupid.
As I often tell students though, just telling someone and even getting their agreement, is not enough.
Social marketing is, really, about measurable behavioural change. The game does seem to reinforce the message – from Australian train company Metro – in a few distinctive ways.
Firstly, it is engaging, so people – mostly young people – want to see it and play with it. It doesn’t do this by imitating some current ‘yoof’ craze, but by a very controlled aesthetic. The music is part of that.
I can almost guarantee that, if you have downloaded the game, within minutes you’ll be humming the tune.
If you’re like me you’ll be humming it and wondering what the tune is…until you realise where it’s come from and allow yourself a smile. The game inspires affection.
The animated figures are cute too. A complete contrast to the supposed value of ‘shock’ which, we know, can result in a kind of voyeurism but a disassociation with the risky behaviour depicted.
And it’s viral. Why? Well, as Dan Zarella points out, things get passed on if they have benefits for both parties.
If you haven’t seen ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ then I look good passing it on to you. And…if you are interested, you’ll gain some benefit (however slight) from receiving it. For young people, the intended target, passing on something of high quality, infectious humour and, yes, a slight ‘gross’ factor,has value.
The gameplay itself seems to reinforce the fact that you can avoid a lot of dumb deaths in quite obvious ways (don’t use your dangly bits for piranha bait…) but you have to move fast (no, faster, faster, faster) to get out of the way of a train.
In theory, the game frames risky behaviour around trains by placing it alongside unlikely (but very obviously dumb) behaviours and gains assent that it IS dumb. But I’d be interested to know more about the research into why people take such risks (with trains, not piranhas) in the first place.
I’ve no doubt my sons have cracked the game and moved on, but still the hummable tune and the cute, but mutilated creatures will remain in their minds I think.
Apparently McCann’s and Metro claimed a 20% reduction in risky behaviour which would be extraordinary (see Karalee Evans on Mumbrella). Metro itself claims up to 30% reduction in near misses on level crossings.
Sadly McCann’s themselves don’t share the secret of its success (not very altrusitic!) and their own analysis is sadly lacking preferring to emphasise the popularity (notably outside of Australia) leading to 40 million Youtube hits.
I’d be interested to hear how Metro and others intend to build on this campaign or if, indeed, there is any research into its effect.
It’s likely the campaign will be imitated around the world but I can only hope that it is backed up by evidence other than its virality. Social marketing IS about changing behaviour not just entertaining or engaging. Having said that, engagement is a good place to start.

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