The Awards Report

Smart Lessons from 'Dumb' Marketers

Brains Behind Metro's Most-Awarded Campaign Share Insights On Nuturing Winning Creative

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As part of Ad Age's latest annual Awards Report tabulating the most creatively celebrated companies and personalities of the year, we asked winning marketers and agencies about their campaigns.

Credit: James Geer for Ad Age

Melbourne's Metro Trains reaped the benefits of great creativity -- not just on the awards circuit, but as a real business. While the campaign earned plenty of love in the broader culture, it also did its job: Nearly 2 million commuters pledged to be be safer on trains, and the client saw a 20% reduction in rail-related accidents year-on-year.

General Manager-Corporate Relations Leah Waymark (second from left) and Marketing Manager Chloe Alsop (far right), pictured here, with McCann Melbourne Exec-Creative Director John Mescall (far left) and Creative Director Pat Baron, shared with Ad Age the lessons they learned on the campaign, including the fact that when it comes to taking a chance, it's O.K. to do as long as you've got your strategy straight and you're not standing on the train platform.

What sort of task did you approach McCann Melbourne with? Why go the cute, friendly route versus the familiar PSA route of scare tactics?
Ms. Alsop: We had a gap in our marketing strategy around customer safety and communicating that we cared for them. Our focus had primarily been tactical and instructional, which wasn't working. In the middle of 2012 a few level-crossing incidents across Australia pushed me to think, "How can marketing better tackle the problem of people being safe around trains?" The brief wasn't so much about what I wanted, but more what I didn't. No shock and awe, nothing gruesome -- nothing to make people feel sad or worried. I didn't want the Metro brand associated with negative creative. We challenged them to show us something different.

When McCann presented its idea to you, what was your initial reaction? Did you have any reservations about it?
Ms. Alsop: Before the "Dumb Ways to Die" concept was presented, there was a pre-sell phone call. "We're doing a song," said our group account director. My response: "I'm hanging up." Fearing a tacky jingle, I was pleasantly surprised that this "song" concept was exactly what we were looking for. Sure, it was different and had the words "dumb" and "death" in the headline, but it just worked, the warmth of the creative balanced out the negativity of the consequences.

Did you view this campaign as risky? If so, how did you sell it through--and who did you have to sell it through to?
Leah Waymark: We thought it would get people talking and singing, but never saw it as risky. As a fairly new brand, just under four years old, we've worked hard to evolve in line with our operational performance and the customer experience. We couldn't have had a laugh with our customers if the trains weren't (mostly!) running on time. So I guess we'd earned permission to use humor and engage in this way.

The benefit of having a small team is that approvals are tight and fast. I've established trust internally to the point where I am the final sign off, so once Chloe and I are happy, we can hit go. This is a huge advantage as my experience shows that lengthy or bureaucratic processes can stymie creativity to the point where the final output is so stripped-back that it's conservative or dull.

Did you ever have any concerns that the fun, light-hearted approach of the campaign would get in the way of delivering its message?
Ms. Alsop: I always worry pre-launch of a campaign, I think most marketers should! If there's no element of worry then you're just creating white noise. With "Dumb," I was worried because it was different but I believed it was the right creative solution for the brief. It also just had a special feel to it. Would the video have the same appeal without the safety message? I don't think it would. It's all in the balance. The music, the color palette and the subtle messaging. Advertising can't scream at people anymore.

What are your plans for continuing to deliver the campaign's message?
Ms. Waymark: The next stage is a licensing program aimed at building on this engagement as well as another game app.

Do you have advice for other marketers on strategies for pushing risky creative campaigns through and on talking to your audience in an effective way?
Ms. Waymark: Know your customer and your brand and work hard to minimize the layers of approvals. While I accept that every organization is different and ours has a culture of fast-paced change, marketers need to make marketing decisions and take responsibility for them. That way the right creative for the task will make it through rather than the creative that can get approved.

Ms. Alsop: I think it's important to get a good agency team. We've all worked with agencies where it's us and them. It just doesn't deliver. It's a crazy time for marketing that is changing so rapidly with technology, but at the end of the day good creative will reach people. Don't be boring.

Who is your favorite "Dumb Ways to Die" character, and why?
Ms. Alsop: I like "hair on fire" the best. The run over the hill to start the song gets me every time I watch the clip.

Ms.Waymark: My favourite is "Dunce" who sells both his kidneys on the internet. I love that he's so pleased with himself that he keeps dancing even when the others don't. And I really like the train characters, Stumble, Bonehead and Putz, who we sliced and split to depict how badly damaged you would be if you go up against a train.

For a breakdown of all this year's winners, see the full Awards Report on

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