Grey Singapore’s migrant-saving app shortlisted at Cannes Lions called out as ‘terrible fake’

Tweet on Migrants appAn app created by Grey Singapore that supposedly enables the user to scan the Mediterranean ocean for stranded refugee boats has been called out for being non-functional and made only to win an award.

The “I Sea” app was billed as a revolutionary way to save refugees lost in the Med in a large volume of international press coverage generated over the last few days, but a tech writer has written off the app as an “in-progress intern proof-of-concept… pushed as finished.”

The app – which is a product of Grey’s philanthropic arm Grey for Good that has been particularly busy in recent months – supposedly takes real-time satellite imagery of the Mediterranean, splits it into plots and allows users to search their plot for refugee boats in distress, flag their GPS coordinates, and report sightings to aid stations.

I SeaHowever, tech security writer Taylor Swift, who uses the Twitter handle @SwiftOnSecurity, argued yesterday that the app was fake, and said that journalists had been fooled into believing the intention behind I Sea was to save refugees. Media outlets including Newsweek, Wired, Mashable, Reuters, Huffington Post and Channels NewsAsia covered the story.

In a series of tweets, Swift, who has 131,000 followers on Twitter, pointed out that the app – which supposedly works in real time – was presenting an image of the Mediterranean at the wrong time of the day and has a bogus weather reading, while others questioned the viability of an app that can source high-resolution, real-time imagery of an entire ocean.

The writer pointed out that an image that was presented as live in the app was identical to an on-boarding screenshot, casting serious doubt over the credibility of the app. She also observed that the app was lacking a copyright notice for the framework and weather API.

“Tried it, the app is completely non-functional. It’s a marketing stunt for the developer to get press articles,” Swift wrote, who was later advised by others on Twitter of advertising agencies’ fondness for phoney do-gooding ideas at this time of year.

“It’s also nighttime in the Mediterranean right now. And light in the app! Great! Screw these guys. This is disgusting,” she wrote.

“I intuitively knew this app was fake within 20 seconds of using it. It screams unfinished interface mock-up, doesn’t act right.”

“It seems this sham app about helping refugees was submitted to an advertising awards show,” she tweeted yesterday, but covered later herself by conceding: “I’ve got to be wrong on this somehow. There’s no way this is a sham for attention. Someone correct me please and I’ll delete and apologize.”

Alex Kent, a software developer, called the app “a terrible fake.”

“My ‘live’ satellite image is same as in all the screenshots,” he noted.

The app has been shortlisted at the Cannes Lions awards show this week, in the Promo & Activation Lions category. The client is the Migrant Offshore Aid Station.

Cannes Lions shortlist

Update: The ‘I Sea’ app has been awarded Bronze Lions at Cannes overnight, but has been withdrawn from the Apple Store. Mumbrella has approached Cannes for comment.

Grey, which posted a case study video for the idea last week, has not responded to Mumbrella’s request for comment.

The news emerges a few weeks after Grey’s global creative head Per Pederson defended a recent flurry of well-publicised awards-friendly campaigns claiming to be doing good, including a mosquito-killing umbrella in Malaysia, English-teaching candy sellers in India and a way to reduce the temperature of rural Bangladeshi homes using a grid of plastic bottles.

“We never do anything just for award shows, but use them as a launch pad and testing ground for ideas,”  said Pedersen , who uses the term “solvertising” to describe work that tackles social problems.

Grey was in the running for agency of the year at Cannes last year, coming third behind Ogilvy and BBDO to the accolade of the most awarded agency at the festival.

Pedersen said at the time that he was “annoyed” when doubt was cast over an Ogilvy entry that was called out by a Singapore creative for passing off someone else’s idea as their own. Cannes stood by the entry, Lucky Fish Project.

“We found ourselves close to network of the year. I was annoyed. Ogilvy got points from a Geometry entry that was called into question. I thought, it seems to be scam to me, and I asked [the organisers] what’s going on.”

“Normally I don’t give a shit, but this year we were competing for network of the year. It felt like trying to win the Tour de France without doping. It’s kind of difficult when you realise that everyone around you is cheating. That was the feeling I got when I saw those stories. It’s sad,” he said.


  1. Sayitright
    20 Jun 16
    4:27 pm

  2. Those are radar images, same visibility day and night

  3. Shameless
    20 Jun 16
    4:34 pm

  4. If I was a client reading this, I would immediately put this agency on my no-fly list.

    They are just shameless….leveraging the misery and tragedy of migrants to get talked about is the worst kind of human behaviour….especially when it’s been shown that the app is nothing but a half baked fantasy that doesn’t work…how can you trust them to execute real stuff that works then?

  5. Bindi done that
    20 Jun 16
    4:50 pm

  6. It’s sad and cruel how they giving false hope to people. In the end, everyone will think the problem is being solved and stop doing something about it. And the guys at Grey go home with their shiny trophies.

    What a sad state Cannes is now. The industry outsiders will now be watching this drama unfold.

  7. Down with scammers
    20 Jun 16
    4:51 pm

  8. I am sure the agency hasn’t responded because the CCO and CEO are in Cannes right now, hoping this will win a lion along with the rest of their “save the world” work.

    These guys just retrenched a bunch of hard working people due to account losses…so where do they find the money to do all this work for free?

    The judges need to call the CCO into the room and make him demonstrate the app on his phone in real time….if he can actually use it to find a boat of migrants, then leave it in.

    Or just turf it out and ban them from entering for three years.

  9. Mumbrella does it again
    20 Jun 16
    4:58 pm

  10. @Robin What do the editors from the various media pages who covered the news have to say? Interesting to know how they feel about being scammed.

  11. Embarrassing
    20 Jun 16
    5:05 pm

  12. Dear Grey. If you’re going to do scam, at least do it well. Everyone involved should be embarrassed to be called out like that – Mr Pederson even more so for your comments. You’re better off not saying anything at all.

  13. A new low
    20 Jun 16
    6:08 pm

  14. Anyone involved in this is a scumbag.

    Post the credits. Name and shame.

  15. I DON'T SEA
    20 Jun 16
    6:50 pm

  16. What a sham piece of work capitalizing on the real plights of migrants.

  17. CompleteBull
    20 Jun 16
    7:55 pm

  18. Cannes is full of shameless scam. Using refugees to win awards is a new low. The good note from JWT Beirut , another wpp agency, is also a scam.

  19. Blood Lions
    20 Jun 16
    9:23 pm

  20. The shocking image of 6 year old Alan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach hasnt even faded from memory and these terrible people are trying to milk a horrible situation for a stupid award.

    This is really too much….Per Pedersen needs to be questioned by the international media….I have already sent an email to the BBC about this.

    Both the global and regional CCOs need to be held accountable.

    If I saw any of these a-holes in Cannes, I’d walk up to them and give them a piece of my mind

    If any clients of this agency are reading, I hope you are aware of the shameful behaviour you are endorsing by not speaking out against it.

  21. Lt Col Frank Slade
    20 Jun 16
    10:08 pm

  22. “Charlie, it’s all shit.”

  23. Do Something
    20 Jun 16
    10:23 pm

  24. Guys, commenting here alone isn’t going to help. They’re gonna just walk away with a few blood trophies if nobody does anything.

    Write to the editors at the various news outlets that have covered this. Or at least send them this link.

    There’s a limit to how far scam work should go. In this case, it’s downright irresponsible.

    Remember, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

  25. ugh
    21 Jun 16
    12:24 am

  26. Why this matters is because real NGO’s with little budget ARE going to be attracted to those who say they can solve problems efficiently. So awards like this, in ways, help take money from NGOs.

    Like with “Iron Fish” last year…if the Global Geometry agency got the credit for ‘inventing’ it, how many NGOs would possibly have gone to them for something innovative? But they didn’t invent anything. They came aboard and helped promote it after the fact. Very different from ‘Innovation.’

  27. Horrible
    21 Jun 16
    12:34 am

  28. This is inhumane! Ban them.

  29. At least get the app to work?
    21 Jun 16
    12:55 am

  30. It’s such a shame not just to the agency but the whole industry. Looks like things are unravelling

  31. HB Pencil
    21 Jun 16
    7:20 am

  32. Been watching Grey for a few years now and it seems every single piece of work was part of a journey to arrive at this woeful piece of nonsense.

    They’ve not even tried to hide the fact that they are rolling out this shit simply to bring metal in.

    Grey – when you win an award you rip it out of a deserving teams hands and take fingers with you.


  33. HB Pencil
    21 Jun 16
    7:57 am

  34. And there we are – a bronze.

    Tearing metal away from others who deserve it.

    *golf clap*

  35. Seasick
    21 Jun 16
    8:48 am

  36. It’s only day 2 of Cannes.

    There’s still time to retract the award.

    As long as we keep the pressure up. And give them the publicity they deserve. Even if Cannes does nothing, at least their future potential clients can see it. At least D&AD and other shows won’t be blind to it. At least those with blood on their hands won’t find rest.

  37. Joshua
    21 Jun 16
    9:10 am

  38. Is making scams for awards part of Grey’s DNA?

    Grey Dhaka has entered another filthy scam. The entry named “Pedal Pure”, which has been shortlisted in “Direct”, “Product design” and “Innovation” category is a naked copy of an old idea, done by someone else in 2008!!!

    Here goes the youtube link of the original idea.

    And here goes the link of what Grey Dhaka has submitted

    Because of their such heinous act, they should be banned to submit any award entry in the future.


  39. Annihilation
    21 Jun 16
    9:40 am

  40. “Grey is the master of copying idea. Nakedly”…

  41. Canned Lions
    21 Jun 16
    12:13 pm

  42. Ouch. Capitalising on these migrants’ plight for self gain through scam works. Come I clap for you.

  43. Ex Grey employee
    21 Jun 16
    12:28 pm

  44. finally all the fluff has come to light!!

  45. Hey Per
    21 Jun 16
    12:58 pm


    Still standing by your false comments?? Might be time to start job hunting big guy….

  47. Mark Tan
    21 Jun 16
    1:48 pm

  48. Dun worry, scam ads in digital categories don’t really do well unless the agency tried to do a lot of media coverage for the submission, which leads to incidents like these.

  49. Kenneth
    21 Jun 16
    2:23 pm

  50. Let’s put aside the matter of scamming for a minute….let’s look at the actual digital capabilities of this agency….because it appears they have none.

    Some quotes from the article and REAL digital experts who are ripping this to shreds on account of its many flaws.

    “”It’s a terrible fake,” iOS developer Alex Kent said on Twitter. “My ‘live’ satellite image is [the] same as in all the screenshots.”

    “Rosyna Keller, an iOS app developer and reverse engineering expert, dissected the app and found that it did almost nothing it claimed to do, including its core claim of locating refugees using real-time satellite imagery.”

    “They were just using the API to map their fake, static image to the tiles Google Maps presents.”

    “The app promises to show real-time images of an area of the Mediterranean Sea totaling 2.5 million square kilometers. In fact, the app uses static images from 2015 that are no help to refugees today.”

    “When I Sea users do try to make a report, the app inexplicably requests personal information, including a passport number and email address. With all that, the app has no privacy policy dictating what they do with your information.”

    So….as a client… have to wonder how poor the digital capabilities of this company really are….I certainly wouldn’t risk their incompetence on a real project.

  51. Lend an Eye
    23 Jun 16
    12:46 am

  52. Grey also won a Cannes Bronze award for “Lend an Eye” android app that supposedly to help the visually impaired. The Client is Eureka call center.

  53. Kopi Po
    23 Jun 16
    1:16 pm

  54. I’d like to know of ONE social problem that was solved by ads for Cannes. These fake ads have always been a showpiece for an agency to do the work they want, free from any restricting client brief or budget. Some are great…some, meh. A Lion is just a chance for a bunch of people to climb to the top of the dung heap, thump their chests and roar!

  55. Ex SG ECD
    25 Jun 16
    8:35 pm

  56. Okay people is been five days and not a word from Ali…he’s the creative lead at Grey and the buck stops with him. I want to hear your response Ali. Now. I’m tired of waiting. Give back the Lion and apologise. Mumbrella keep calling Ali until you get an explanation. Thank you.

  57. Crooked Dougherty
    25 Jun 16
    11:07 pm

  58. The silence from the Grey Singapore bigwigs …. ala Ali Shabaz Regional CCO is disappointing. Not one person from Grey Asia is talking….the only one speaking is Owen Dougherty, Greys worldwide head of PR. Which means it’s serious, because this time they’ve gone way beyond the pathetic print scam….they’ve conned the media, the tech fraternity and even Cannes…..and Dougherty has the gall to attack SwiftOn Security for providing proof the app doesn’t work…..if it does work, why did Apple throw it out of the App store? And if it really was in testing, why was it even sent unfinished to Apple in the first place…Dougherty’s cover up skills are laughable!

    The only person who IS talking about it on her site is a Grey “Creative Director” called Cinzia Crociani. I say creative director because it seems to be some sort of joke….nearly all the work on that site is rubbish public service scam. Anyway, she want people to get in touch (presumably with a job offer), and has kindly provided an email and mobile number.!i-sea-migrants-offshore-aid-station/u9uht

  59. WOW
    26 Jun 16
    1:53 pm

  60. Yes Mumbrella keep calling Ali. Give back the Lion and apologise. Donate your monthly pay to the migrants and resign like a Man. #GREXIT

  61. Taylor Swifton
    26 Jun 16
    4:51 pm

  62. @Crooked Dougherty, the link you provided didn’t work. Did you mentioned she’s from Grey again?

  63. Taylor lautner to Taylor Swifton
    26 Jun 16
    6:28 pm

  64. Google Cache Rocks
    27 Jun 16
    3:29 pm

  65. You can’t hide anything on the internet these days.

  66. Mr Singh's secretary
    28 Jun 16
    2:13 pm

  67. Mr Singh just told the office that a) journalists are rubbish and no one called him b) that he is great, his office is great, the app is great (and working) c) if anyone calls him he will speak with them and show them that the app is working.


  68. Pants On Fire
    28 Jun 16
    3:23 pm

  69. Robin must be sitting in the lobby already.

  70. True Grey
    28 Jun 16
    4:26 pm

  71. Seriously, they are pretending at Grey like nothing happened. It is all good. Ali had nothing to do with the app is hiding in Pakistan someplace and Cinzia isn’t hiding in the toilet again. Batey team here wants to puke. This is a disaster and the management is telling us not to log onto Mumbrella!!!

  72. Alan
    28 Jun 16
    5:19 pm

  73. I don’t see how much longer they can bury their head in the sand.

    The whole world knows its a pathetic scam perpetrated by some not very creative desperadoes…the experts proved the app doesn’t work, the client disowned the agency saying the app does not work….only cannes thinks it’s great and lets the award stand.

    Now it’s up to Cannes to investigate asap and strip this shameless agency of its Lion. Everyone knows the personnel involved…I’d never hire them to work on real business.

    Clients are also starting to take notice…let us see how many pitches this agency gets in on and wins now that there is a better understanding of what their creative reputation is built on.

  74. Robin
    28 Jun 16
    6:05 pm

  75. @True Grey, when did Singh say that? My source told he still saying app is real. Not fake one

  76. Mark Tan
    30 Jun 16
    10:51 am

  77. When notable tech bloggers, the Apple App store and the client says this is not just a fake but a badly done up specs work, Grey Singapore should just man up and apologise for making use of this tragedy to win at Cannes.

    To do good, you have to be able to do the right thing, right?

  78. Michael
    30 Jun 16
    1:29 pm

  79. Best description of this whole debacle came from the whistle blowing Cannes judge who described the people behind this app as ‘miserable’

    Can’t think of a better word. Miserable from start to end.

    Very disappointed with Nirvik. Like to think this was out of his control

  80. Grey Goose
    30 Jun 16
    2:47 pm

  81. We are told not to speak to Mumbrella about this and I say “told” but it’s closer to “threathened”. But most of the people here are pissed off, and annoyed that the whole agency is pulled through the mud for this.

    Worse, the higher ups are refusing to really talk about the whole shebang. Our CD / Jury judge is being smug about how we managed to win despite all the naysayers. To add salt to the wound, someone “jokingly” said that we have to put this behind us, and start thinking of ideas for next year’s Cannes. WTF. It’s also hard for any of us to find another job since everyone gags when they hear we are from Grey.

  82. Grey singapore office
    30 Jun 16
    10:13 pm

  83. Big talk
    1 Jul 16
    5:52 am

  84. It’s easy to sound imperious and self confident when barking orders to employees from the ‘comfort’ of their office.
    Total disconnect with reality.
    A bit like those Hitler in the bunker parody videos.
    After adolf can’t find any refuges on his giant map, one aide whispers: ‘The app doesn’t actually work, herr hitler.’
    Another adds: ‘it’s actually Italian.’
    Then all hell breaks loose.
    That’s Grey entry for Cannes 2017 in the entertainment category.
    Wait- don’t bother.
    The poison dwarf said wpp may not be participating after all.
    Pressure is off.
    You can now see your loved ones on weekends.

  85. I am the best
    3 Jul 16
    12:45 pm

  86. We won a bronze in Cannes for the app and we did not save any migrants.

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