The PSA appeared in newspapers, on radio and on outdoor advertisements, but it was YouTube that became the most effective outlet for the campaign. The videos became viral sensations and extended beyond Melbourne to the rest of the world in a matter of days as the clicks and shares grew and grew. The videos were introduced in November 2012. By May 2013, Metro had created an interactive app where gamers help the characters avoid dumb ways to die. That was around the time Evolution USA LLC, a full-service licensing, brand management, product development and sourcing firm, took serious notice.
President of Evolution Travis Rutherford learned about the “Dumb Ways to Die” franchise in the same way so many others do – his children shared it with him. But when he and his colleagues saw the videos, they realized it was more than just a catchy song and funny characters.
“When we became formally involved with Metro in June of 2013, we quickly realized there was a greater opportunity to monetize the brand” Rutherford says.
At such time, the “Dumb Ways to Die” game had no in-app purchases or advertising and the technology platform the game was built on was only compatible with a limited number of advertising networks. In November 2013, Evolution helped Metro transition “Dumb Ways to Die” to a new technology solution and revise the business model that would allow it to attract multiple advertising partners on a global basis without diminishing the user experience. The transition was a huge success. Metro recently introduced “Dumb Ways to Die 2 – The Games” in the iTunes app store last November and on Google Play last December. The game launched to top spots in both app stores. In a rare occurrence, the successor has surpassed the predecessor. “Dumb Ways to Die 2” reached the No. 1 spot overall in iTunes in the free apps category in 81 countries, compared to the first app’s No. 1 spot overall in 30 countries. In the United States, “Dumb Ways to Die 2- The Games” took the top spot in the free app charts in iTunes, besting the heavily advertised “Candy Crush Soda Saga” app.
“The monetization techniques employed have enabled Metro to continue to invest significant amounts into the brand without alienating fans,” Rutherford says. “It’s retained high rankings in the app stores and advertising is performing at the highest levels possible in each region.”
As the apps are downloaded to tablets and smartphones, Metro and McCann continuously build the brand’s foundation with new digital content specific for YouTube – they’ve created videos for Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Halloween and Christmas. They even created a short video for the Ice Bucket Challenge craze and teasers to prepare for “Dumb Ways to Die 2 – The Games.” Rutherford says “the widely embraced content makes the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ franchise a prime candidate for product licensing, and many partners have already jumped on board with more to follow”.
Building the Brand
Publishing partner The Five Mile Press is one of the most recent licensees to partner with “Dumb Ways to Die.” The publisher is developing a comprehensive line of storybooks, activity books, novelty books and stationery products for distribution to major retailers beginning in October 2015.
Based in Melbourne, The Five Mile Press will handle publishing internationally, excluding the United States and Canadian markets. Rutherford explains “Evolution is already in discussions with local publishers for the North American market.”
The Five Mile Press is just one of many that see the value in this fast-developing brand. Evolution and its sub-agents have thus far licensed the brand to Commonwealth Toys for plush and vinyl figures, Underground Toys for toys and novelty items, Fashion Lab for apparel and t-shirts, GB Eye and Impact Posters for posters and paper goods, Total Resources for first aid and safety products, and Swyft Media and Bare Tree Media for social messaging and photo bomb apps. Evolution is in discussion with a number of other interested partners across various categories and territories including toys, sleepwear, fashion apparel, novelty, paper goods, creative play, food, back-to-school, games and room décor.
Earning Retail Recognition
Although licensees have been easy to attract, Rutherford says retailers are playing it more conservatively. No one can deny “Dumb Ways to Die” produces attractive content worth a download.
The “Dumb Ways to Die” YouTube Channel, featuring the original PSA and specially created short-form animated content continues to add approximately 2 million new viewers monthly with more than 130 million views, and 470,000-plus subscribers to date.
More than 100 parody videos have been uploaded to YouTube with several receiving millions of views, including “Annoying Ways to Die from Annoying Orange” (9.6 million), “Dumb Ways to Die Minecraft Edition” (7.4 million), and “The Movie Maniacs Parody” (7.3 million).
The ad campaign also has garnered significant accolades, including the Grand Trophy in the 2013 New York Festivals International Advertising Awards. In June 2013, the campaign clip won the Integrated Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and, overall, won five Grand Prix awards, 18 Gold Lions, three Silver Lions and two Bronze Lions, which was the most for any campaign in the festival’s history.
Despite all this recognition, the evolution of the “Dumb Ways to Die” franchise – a PSA turned commercial success – is still foreign to most retailers.
“Retailers today are still very conservative,” Rutherford says. “They have very little shelf space and have high demand from both licensors and licensees for that space. There’s a lot of content available to them as buyers and they are playing very safe by putting in items based on previous brand performance or products based on movie sequels.”
“Dumb Ways to Die” is a very different animal. It’s a brand that has been created in the new media world and its global popularity has come via viral shares and social media versus traditional media.
“If 130 million consumers had watched a TV series or film, every retailer in the country would be supporting licensed products extensively,” Rutherford adds. “So the challenge is educating retailers to understand that despite this brand being born on a new media platform, 130 million consumers should not be ignored. Metro will launch an e-commerce store with a dynamic line of licensed and originally created merchandise to prove the consumer demand and to allay retailers’ concerns.”
The brand’s ecommerce site will launch in early 2015.
“Metro believes in the brand and they are investing for the long-term by maintaining quality storytelling, and developing new short form content and more digital games,” Rutherford says. “Sometimes it takes time to grow and convince the marketplace that something meaningful is there. So we are taking our time, working with quality partners to get placement in specialty and mid-tier retailers with expansion into mass retail in the future.”