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‘Dumb Ways to Die’ resurrected in Empire Life insurance campaign

In what critics called a dumb move, McCann Melbourne’s record-breaking ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign for Metro Trains has been resurrected in a consumer insurance advertising campaign for Ontario-based Empire Life Insurance Company.

The new-old campaign was licensed by California-based agency Evolution Inc., which has been working with Metro Trains. In the multimedia campaign, the adorable yet unfortunate beans who meet untimely deaths star, but the original safety message is replaced by the tagline, “The dumbest way to die is without life insurance.”

Apart from three 30-second videos in English and French, there is a website that features the characters juxtaposed with statistics. For instance, the character that dies learning to fly on its own is accompanied by the fact that there is a 53 percent survival rate of passengers on aircraft ditching during controlled flight. Meanwhile, the character that uses its private parts as piranha bait is accompanied by the fact that 63 percent of drowning incidents occur in lakes, rivers and streams. Visitors to the site may then click to get an insurance quote. 

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Empire Life said, “the ad campaign is designed to engage and educate Canadians about the need for life insurance using an entertaining approach. The message ‘The dumbest way to die is without life insurance,’ aims to make the topics of death and life insurance more approachable and remind consumers that the unexpected happens every day.”

While the original campaign was widely well-received, its reincarnation was seen as a sell-out move. On The Ethical Adman, Tom Megginson called the campaign a stupid idea, saying, “First of all, the viral potential of the cartoon has already been tapped worldwide. Thanks to international ad blogs, the PSA is already very familiar to Canadians. Many have seen it already, and will not necessarily associate it with life insurance or with Empire Life.”

Megginson also said it was greedy on the part of Metro, whose marketing manager Chloe Alsop told adobo in a previous interview that the campaign was ultimately about the safety message. 

“They had a runaway hit for the public good, and they sell it to an insurance company who totally miss the point? Now all those cute death scenarios are there to scare people into buying something, rather than to make a point about rail safety,” Megginson wrote.

On AdWeek, Tim Nudd laments, “On the eve of the 2014 Cannes Lions festival, it’s also a depressing slap in the face to the ad business to see the most decorated campaign in Cannes history bastardized like this—a PSA cynically turned into a for-profit campaign.”

The Globe and Mail’s Susan Krashinky wrote that the move is part of a larger effort by Metro to capitalize on its campaign, noting the company had also released a line of plush toys. According to Alsop, revenue from the toys would be used to keep Metro’s safety message campaign running.

Well-received or not, as Pop Herald’s Carlo Raphael Diokno notes, it’s still publicity. 

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