Old ads don’t die, they get recycled as TikTok memes: ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ goes viral

In 2013, “Dumb ways to die” was the most awarded campaign in Cannes history, with five Grand Prix. In 2023, it lives on as a TikTok phenomenon.

Tennis Player Coco Gauff and US gymnast Olivia Dunne (7.1m followers) are among those showing clips of epic fails (not actual deaths), accompanied by the tune, which was originally written for a campaign to promote train safety by McCann Melbourne.

TikTok loves trends – often surfacing as videos made using a template – and recently a “Dumb ways to die” meme has had thousands of interpretations and millions of views.

The song’s lyrics suggest ways to die: Get your toast out with a fork, do your own electrical work, teach yourself how to fly, or eat a two-week-old unrefrigerated pie. TikTok users are posting less disastrous personal fails (although some of them look pretty painful) or film clips, particularly from Marvel movies.

The social media platform has done a lot for reviving old pop songs, endlessly recycling hits including a lot of Kate Bush, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which went viral on the back of a TikTok of a guy drinking Ocean Spray while on his skateboard.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall is a journalist and editorial consultant and is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

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