How to go viral

Ben Moss.
November 29, 2012
How to go viral.

ThumbnailGoing viral is the holy grail of advertising these days. Mom and Pop run businesses can become global names overnight with the right hashtag, video or promo.

When Metro Trains — the metropolitan rail network for Melbourne, Australia — wanted to raise awareness of the inherent dangers surrounding railways they turned to advertising agency McCann Melbourne to deliver something a little different.

Dumb ways to die

Founded exactly 100 years ago, McCann is part of the world's largest advertising agency network. They boast amongst their clients L'Oréal, MasterCard, Coca Cola, and Xbox 360.

McCann's Executive Creative Director, John Mescall and Creative, Pat Baron devised the concept of a song that would cutify Metro's message, making it more appealing to their target audience. The resulting song; with lyrics by Mescall, music by Ollie McGill and vocals by Emily Lubitz; was released on iTunes, hitting the Australian top ten in just 24 hours, with top tens in various Asian countries following shortly after.

The song was animated by New Zealander, Julian Frost using Abobe Flash and After Effects. It was released on YouTube at the same time as the song. In the last ten days it has been viewed nearly 28 million times.

Some of our favorite 'dumb ways to die' include using your private parts as piranha bait, selling your kidneys on the internet, and scratching a drug dealer’s brand new ride. The video ends with the three dangers Metro were looking to highlight: standing too close to the edge of a train platform, driving over closed level crossings, and running across railway tracks.

Why has this video gone viral?

Writing for mUmBRELLA John Mescall posits several reasons for the success: firstly he feels the basic idea was good; secondly, that the video is honest; thirdly that it has a great title (how well would it have performed he asks, if titled 'Be safe around trains').

Mescall argues that there five things that go viral: violence, sex, awesomeness, funny and cute. With violence and sex off the table for most corporate clients, and being unable to think of anything awesome, they opted to combine funny and cute.

The decision to mix a morbid subject matter with saccharine levels of cute is what ultimately made it funny I think…Ultimately, it’s an ad that doesn’t feel anything like an ad. It’s happy and silly and joyful and clever and more than a little odd; the intangible things that are so hard to rationalise, but so very important. - John Mescall

Finally the team worked hard to ensure that the campaign was easy to share — an obvious point perhaps, but one that is often overlooked — animated gifs were produced for Tumblr, the song is available on iTunes and comments are enabled on YouTube.

How can I go viral?

It seems like simple advice, but there is one key element of this project that is surprisingly hard to duplicate: the client was fully onboard.

Metro decided to take the 'risk', of trusting the creatives it hired, to do their jobs. In fact it seems they embraced the project with open arms; writing on his blog, Julian Frost reports that Metro's feedback during production included "make it more violent!" and "add a piranha to his private parts please".

There's no predicting zeitgeist, but if your client asks you to help them go viral, point them to the 'Dumb ways to die' video and tell them that's what might happen if they let you do your job.

Have you ever had a project go viral? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Moss

Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.

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