Dumb Ways to Die, or how to stick a safety message in the head…

I used to write advertising copy. Yeah, sure, we used to call it health promotion, but so much of that is just advertising, good or bad. Unfortunately, there’s often not a sense of humour to the messages we use in our “professional” voice. So many people are sure something might offend someone they pull even the most innocuous things out of the message. It leaves it dead, flat, uninteresting, and ultimately, unreadable.

Contrast that with this charming train safety message. I’ll bet it sticks in your head:


I’m still wanting the “brown ribbon” campaign for bowel cancer. I would love to write limericks for healthy living, or catchy songs for  safe drinking guidelines. Silly, wonderful things that catch the eye.

Like this one, by Air New Zealand, leaders in the air safety message category…


It all comes down, yet again, to good writing. I argue that good writing should engage the mind, should demand a response, should perhaps offend slightly someone somewhere, or it isn’t good. All those years I wrote for public health, I only got away with a couple of vaguely funny remarks. Everything else was edited out. Nothing I ended up putting out there had any impact, save for the smiling face of a colleague (we’d taken her photo for an exercise pamphlet) shining off the side of buses for a cervical screening campaign. She looked so so very happy to have a pap smear. Not sure what the impact was except that she’s very well-known in our town now.

Perhaps my only other high impact campaign involved a wrong phone number in our walking guide. That sent people looking for more trail information to an adult sex line. Three days later we were still applying correction stickers.

The trail guide flew off our shelves.

1 thought on “Dumb Ways to Die, or how to stick a safety message in the head…

  1. thegork

    Don’t give up on your “humour for health” campaign. I have seen a shift lately towards this very thing. It’s the only thing we still respond to!


Comments are closed.