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persuasion notebook

Selling both of your kidneys online; DIY electrician work; swallowing super-glue – these are all examples of "dumb ways to die" that Australians have been hearing about since 2012. And now they have come to Canada.

It started out as a campaign for train safety from Melbourne, Australia, rail company Metro Trains. It compared recklessness around trains with a number of other stupid and fatal mistakes.

The video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 80 million times, shows adorable cartoon characters meeting a variety of grisly ends and appealed to millions with a dark sense of humour and weirdly catchy music.

And it won some prominent awards for Metro Trains and its ad agency, McCann Melbourne, at the Cannes advertising festival last summer. Kingston, Ont.-based Empire Life Insurance Co. has decided to attempt to borrow some of that success. The insurer has reached a licensing deal to use the song and the animated characters in a new ad campaign that claims “the dumbest way to die is without life insurance.”

It’s an uncommon approach for advertisers to license an entire campaign from another company. Far more typically, ads from other countries make their way to Canada because a multinational brand decides to adapt ads – usually from the U.S. – for global markets.

The partnership came about because Metro has been working with California-based licensing agency Evolution Inc. to capitalize on its award-winning campaign. Earlier this year, Advertising Age reported that the company would soon begin selling plush toy versions of its unfortunate cartoon victims in stores.

According to a statement from Empire Life, “a robust merchandise program ... is in full development for multiple territories worldwide.

“The message ... aims to make the topics of death and life insurance more approachable and remind consumers that the unexpected happens every day,” the statement said.

Okay, so poking a grizzly bear with a stick (another scenario in the video) is not a realistic example of the “unexpected” that happens every day. But the advertiser is hoping some borrowed humour will get its point across.