Australia's fastest-spreading viral video, "Dumb Ways to Die", has taken on a life of its own, inspiring more than 65 cover versions, 85 parodies and 170 re-posts on YouTube.
The original clip, made to promote safety on Melbourne Metro Trains, has amassed more than 28 million views on YouTube since it was posted on November 14.
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'Dumb Ways to Die' x many million
In November 2012, shortly after its creation, the man behind the viral advert 'Dumb Ways to Die' spoke about the campaign, its impact and all those YouTube views and parodies.
Its creator, ad agency McCann Worldgroup Australia, said its “conservative” estimate was that the campaign had generated $50 million in "global-earned media value" so far, in addition to more than 700 press hits.
A new parody clip by Seattle-based creative team Cinesaurus about the Curiosity Mars mission, dubbed “Cool Things to Find”, joins dozens of other parodies and covers including a classic rock version, a Russian cover, a take by YouTube band The DDL Boys and a cover by a traditional Malaysian musical group.
“It's entered popular culture,” said John Mescall, executive creative director of McCann Worldgroup Australia.
Mescall wrote the lyrics of the original song and brought in Ollie McGill, the keyboardist from Cat Empire, to write the music, as well as a freelancer Julian Frost to complete the animation. Melbourne-based Emily Lubitz of Tinpan Orange did the singing.
Perhaps illustrating why commercial TV networks are in such a poor state, Mescall said he spent "a fraction of the cost of one TV ad", but created something that will live on long after the campaign is over.
“A lot of paid advertising campaigns die the moment you stop spending money, whereas this is going to be in people's playlists for quite a while now,” he said, adding TV networks had to re-think their controlled approach.
“The old model of broadcasting and creating fixed content that people will just sit and watch at your behest is dead ... The things that we were promised from the internet 5 to 10 years ago [around democratising content] I think are now finally starting to come true.”
Mescall said ultimately the success of the campaign was getting young people talking – and evidently even singing – about rail safety.
“People, especially younger people, hate being told what to do, and what's really interesting about this work is it never tells you not to do it ... It almost introduces shame and peer pressure into the equation.”
His other ingredients for viral success include making it non-specific to Australia (for example, by deliberately including grizzly bears and piranha), coming up with a "ridiculously catchy tune", not preaching, and utilising web tools such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Reddit to spread the word.
Cinesaurus, who have previously made viral clips such as "We're NASA and We Know It" and "The iPhone 5 (Parody) Ad" to market their work, loved "Dumb Ways to Die" so much they used it as the basis for their own clip, "Cool Things to Find".
“We were sitting around the office with the song stuck in our heads when we decided we needed to make a version of our own,” said Cinesaurus executive producer Forest Gibson.
Cinesaurus came up with the idea last Wednesday evening and spent Thanksgiving making it. “All in all, it took us six days and 250 man hours to create,” said Gibson.
Ultimately, Mescall says the secret to viral success for brands is creating an ad that doesn't look like an ad, because unless you're a brand like Nike with millions to spend on a single ad, “no one shares advertising".
"We took a serious safety message and we snuck up on people with it, we didn't hit them over the head ... it's dark humour delivered with joy, which almost always works but there's not enough of it in advertising," Mescall said.
"I think people, when they see the Metro message at the end, they're actually genuinely surprised – 'Shit, you mean a company did this?' – which kind of helps the spread of it too.
“Normally, we're mostly reviled for the content we make [in advertising], but times change."