Public service announcements don't have to be dull: Melbourne metro system example

Little guys doing stupid things to bring about their own demise? Hilarious!

Public service announcements tend to be bland and easily tuned out. For example: “Be safe around train tracks.” It is an important message and yet you are yawning (we can see you, so don’t deny it) and you have nearly forgotten what we just said. Now click on this PSA from the Melbourne (Australia) Metro train system to see how some very smart people delivered that same message in a “Dumb” way that is both entertaining and memorable.

The concept was brilliantly simple and went something like this: “Instead of earnestly warning about the dangers of trains, let’s be frank. Getting hit by a train is avoidable, so it is a dumb way to die. And you know what, there are many dumb ways to die.” Like most creative concepts, this one needed great writing to bring it to life. It got that and a lot more. The clever lyrics were set to a catchy melody, they were sung in a charming voice, the music set the tone for dancing cartoon characters that act out the lyrics in adorable-funny-gross fashion. No wonder it’s an Internet hit! We’re all singing that “Dumb Ways To Die” song around the office and we’re not even on the same continent as the intended audience.

Similarly, the folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a lot of earnest messages warning us about threats to public health from tainted food, radiation, natural disasters and other calamities. Most of us pay no attention because these things don’t actually happen to people like us.

zombieThen suddenly CDC blogger Ali S. Khan warns us to prepare for a possible zombie apocalypse and thousands of readers helped him sound the alarm by reposting and tweeting his message. With dead-on logic, the blog makes the case that planning ahead for a zombie attack is a lot like preparing for other disasters. And that was the CDC’s point, of course: You can’t predict when or how disaster will strike. So you always want to be ready with an emergency plan and a kit with some water, food, clothes, medications, toiletries, tools and the like, plus copies of important documents. As a result of this humorous PSA, millions of people have read the blog and know how to prepare for emergencies.

Perhaps your budget can’t support a songwriter, singer, cartoonist, animator or zombie alarm, but you can demand creativity from those you employ or contract with to craft and deliver your message.

  • Do put your important but boring message in an inviting package and tie a big, audacious bow around it.
  • Don’t be afraid to be witty and maybe even silly, if it will help you get your message heard.

P.S. Greatness invites parody, so here’s a sweet homage highlighting what NASA’s rovers could find on Mars.

Need help with your messaging? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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