Today Grey Worldwide released a statement announcing its plans to officially return the Cannes Lion it won for “I SEA.”
For a quick recap, Grey Singapore created the app in partnership with an organization called The Migrant Offshore Aid Network, which aims to help individuals attempting to leave war-stricken countries by sea. It also partnered with “e-Geos Satellite Imaging Company” to develop the app’s functionality.
The problem, as you probably know, is that it didn’t work. Various tech bloggers raised concerns after downloading the app; at least one called it “fake,” and Apple removed it from the App Store the very day it won a Promo and Activation Bronze Lion.
Apparently, various parties kept up the pressure on Grey to denounce the project entirely. Yesterday, a man named Ali Bullock who calls himself a “Social Media Author & Speaker” and works as manager of sponsorships and social media for Infiniti Formula One in Hong Kong published an inflammatory LinkedIn story on the subject headlined, “Why I will never hire Grey as an agency in my lifetime.”
In the post, he called the app “a travesty” and said that he would never consider working with Grey in any capacity until the network returned the award.
He then included an image of what appeared to be a drowned migrant child and wrote:
“Grey won an award off the back of this. Did the champagne and caviar have a salty taste as you celebrated your win? Imagine the salt consumed by people drowning… A truly horrid way to die. And how many died while you partied away in Cannes? Hundreds, thousands? I guess we will never truly know as your app was a load of bullshit. Oh wait, it was in testing… Sorry, my mistake.”
Bullock claimed that Grey did not have the charity’s permission to promote the project. This is consistent with claims from the M.O.A.N. org, which told U.K. tech blog The Register that “the app probably sounded interesting in concept form but failed miserably in execution. We were asked to support the launch of the app in concept only.”
Bullock then moved into some light hyperbole, writing, “This is possibly the saddest moment our industry has faced.” Here’s Grey’s statement announcing its plans to essentially do what Bullock demanded and return the award.
“During Cannes we said the app was real and its creator, Grey for Good in Singapore, is a highly respected philanthropic unit that has helped numerous non-profit organizations. Moreover, Grey is one of the most creatively awarded agencies in the world with the highest ethical standards. We won over 90 Cannes Lions this year alone so there is no need for scam projects. However, given the unwarranted, unfair, unrelenting attacks by unnamed bloggers, we are putting an end to this and returning the Bronze Lion so there is not even the hint of impropriety or a question of our integrity. The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case.”
This statement appears, at least in part, to be a response to Bullock’s piece and others written by various press organizations. The story was big enough for The New York Times to cover it on the day Apple removed I SEA from the iTunes store and before the Cannes award became an issue.
It is not clear at this time who the “unnamed bloggers” might be. Grey did acknowledge last month that the app was not yet functional when the case study video was made and the Cannes submission completed. It’s unclear whether work on the project will continue.
Grey’s statement strikes us as surprisingly defensive given that spokespeople have repeatedly admitted that the app never worked as advertised. We also hear that the network’s creative leadership was very upset to learn that such a project had been submitted to the Cannes jury in the first place.
We will leave it to others to define the word “scam” in this context.