An Australian marketing campaign can teach us lessons beyond its original message of safety.
Every year, Advertising Age publishes a report that looks at the collective results from nine of the most globally respected industry award shows—from the Cannes International Festival of Creativity to the Clios.
The top award recipient this year wasn’t a tear-jerking celebrity sports ad or a preview of a hot new holiday gadget. Instead, the top honor went to Metro Trains from Melbourne, Australia—a public utility with a simple message advocating greater train safety.
The addictive animated jingle for its popular campaign video rode global YouTube popularity to drive its unexpected message home for audiences. How can you mimic the success of this campaign in promoting your business?
1. Elevate your message
The easy thing to do with a public service announcement is to come up with a straightforward tagline that focuses on the problem. Metro Trains elevates its message beyond just train safety. Instead, the video and corresponding campaign created a conversation about something bigger than just safety on trains, and it has benefited from the attention.
The lesson is clear: If you can find ways to talk about something bigger than just your business, you can reach people in a way that a more direct (and smaller) message just can’t.
2. Embrace humor
The entire campaign takes a humorous approach to a rather morbid topic. The lesson? Not to take yourself or your business too seriously. Even with a serious public service announcement, humor can lighten its tone just enough to make the message one that people will interact with and share frequently.
No one wants to share a virtual version of an overprotective mom wagging her finger and telling you not to do something. In this case, humor isn’t about trying to make you laugh out loud. Instead, it gives just enough levity to make what could be a difficult and depressing message more relevant and shareable.
3. Make your team into heroes
As you might imagine, there were several teams behind this campaign, including advertising agency partners and other vendors. One great thing about industry awards, beyond the fact that they can add a layer of legitimacy and attention, is that they offer credit to the team that worked on them.
In this case, that credit means a lot, because the entire team working on the project probably devoted more time and attention than their day jobs demanded. Part of inspiring team members to achieve great things is giving them credit and attention when the kudos come. It gives everyone a shared sense of accomplishment, making it even more likely they will go above and beyond to deliver great results for you in the future.
4. Extend across multiple channels
The biggest concern with a viral hit video in a marketing campaign is the “one-hit wonder” potential. What if all people really care about is a single great video? To counter this, the Metro Trains team has an active publishing strategy around the concept of the ad that includes everything from printed materials to gaming apps.
By extending the reach of the campaign beyond just a great video, they can engage even more people in the message and give the campaign more of a shelf life to continue reaching and influencing people long after the first video becomes overplayed or less interesting.
Though it may seem like an unexpected example to find marketing lessons, the campaign is worth paying attention to. In addition to its accolades, popularity, and awards, the campaign managed to reach its ultimate objective: a reduction in train accidents of more than 20 percent.
As executive creative director Jon Mescall shared in an interview, “What we have is a franchise, rather than just an advertising platform.”
What if you brought that same mentality to the marketing you’re doing for your business? Building a franchise instead of a campaign may be harder, but there’s no denying it has the power to set you apart when you do it—even if your goal isn’t as selfless as saving people from the dangers of trains.
Rohit Bhargava is the best-selling author of five marketing books (including the newly released “ePatient 2015,” and is a professor of global marketing at Georgetown University. He spent four years living and working in Australia, where he practiced train safety almost every day while commuting to work. At the very least, he has always aimed to die intelligently. A version of this article first appeared on the Influential Marketing Blog.