Is this Cannes darling a sellout?

As the 2014 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity gets started, a winning campaign from last year makes headlines again – but for all the wrong reasons.

Dumb Ways To Die, an entertaining public safety campaign for Metro Trains by McCann Melbourne, won five grand prix at Cannes last year, in the TV, radio, direct, PR and integrated categories; the most by any single campaign in the history of the festival. The TV and online campaign featured a number of animated characters meeting grisly ends as a result of foolish behaviour, from poking a bear with a stick to swimming with piranhas, to promote the importance of safe, sensible behaviour on train lines.

These same characters are now being used to sell life insurance. Metro Trains has licensed the campaign to Empire Life Insurance Co., which is producing its own series of ads which answer the question “What is the dumbest way to die?” with “Having no life insurance.”

This pawning of such a celebrated creative idea has left many with a sour taste in their mouth.

“First of all, the viral potential of the cartoon has already been tapped worldwide,” says Tom Megginson, aka The Ethical Adman. “Second, it reeks of greed on the part of Metro. They had a runaway hit for the public good… Now all those cute death scenarios are there to scare people into buying something, rather than to make a point about rail safety.”

Tim Nudd at AdWeek is similarly irked: “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. You can understand Metro Trains wanting to make a buck off the work. But stick to making plush toys, not selling the whole cartoon to some huckster.”

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