When the Globe and Mail reported that Melbourne, Australia's Metro Trains had licensed its "Dumb Ways to Die" characters to Canadian insurer Empire Life, some viewers were a little confused.
The original effort, from McCann, Melbourne, was a viral smash and swept last year's Cannes International Festival of Creativity with an unprecedented five Grand Prix wins.
So when the characters showed up in a new campaign with the tag line, "The dumbest way to die is without life insurance," some assumed that the insurance company simply lifted content straight from the source.
Not even close, said Metro General Manager-Corporate Relations Leah Waymark. "We have had many companies approach us about licensing 'Dumb Ways to Die,' and there are a lot of others who have produced content with striking similarities," she said. "Empire came to us and from the outset proposed to use the content without altering it other than the top or tail to make the association with their brand. So this, and a fairly obvious link to the message, got our attention to start conversations."
For the licensing deal, Metro worked with Calif.-based Evolution, through which it already arranged the creation of plush toys based on the campaign's characters.
Ms. Waymark acknowledged that the Empire deal "was a risk." But, she said, "the positives outweighed the negatives for us. Through this licensing, we now have some funds to reinvest into more creative content, and we have a cracking new 'Dumb Ways to Die' game app in development, which will put our safety message back in the minds of many young people. Other than for merchandise, Empire is the only company we have licensed to."
As for the toys, Ms. Waymark said that the first range of plushes will hit the shelves of Hot Topic and F.Y.E. stores in the U.S. this month and in coming months will arrive in other territories. More content will also launch next month, the Dumb Ways to Die app will feature a new update soon and Metro will launch another game app later in the year.
"We're in uncharted territory to a large extent, with no examples of ads that have turned to licensing in this way to learn from," Ms. Waymark said. "This makes it exciting and a little bit pioneering, but also open for debate across the industry."