I Sea: Maybe a good deed should be its own reward

I Sea appGrey Singapore’s mud-slinging statement on handing back the Cannes Lion it won for the I Sea app shows the global creative network really doesn’t understand how bad the issue was, argues Mumbrella’s Alex Hayes.

As apologies go, Grey Singapore’s overnight effort upon handing back its Cannes Lion it won undeservingly for an app which preyed on emotion around migrant deaths and ultimately was found not to work, was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

The petulant attitude from the network shines through in the statement put out in the name of Grey’s global head of comms Owen Dougherty.

owen dougherty

The last line sums it up perfectly:

The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case.

Well, Owen, there’s another saying your mum might have taught you:

A good deed is its own reward.

What’s really disappointing with this is the fact that Grey has singularly failed to recognise why this piece of non work is quite so inflammatory for the rest of the creative world, which is normally so quick to turn a blind eye to ‘concept’ work.

If you’re still struggling, Owen, I’ll break it down for you. Grey won an award for a product which fundamentally didn’t work, and according to people much more technically proficient than me, would be very tough to make work, and actually not help the situation much anyway.

Like all good case study videos, Grey’s tugged on the heart strings. Sickeningly on this occasion it used the deaths of more than 5,000 people seeking a better life to make that emotional point. And ultimately, all to win awards.


In your statement Owen you use the weasel-worded defence that has become a refrain for those caught out in the industry, pointing the finger at unnamed bloggers for sullying your noble deeds.

Owen, mate, you’ve been called out by half of the world’s press, in bylined article after bylined article. Mashable, The Daily Telegraph in the UK, The Guardian, The Verge, Buzzfeed, The Daily Mail, Gawker and Popular Science are a handful of the titles globally which have covered this farrago.

Yes, it was originally exposed by a tech blogger who writes as SwiftOnSecurity but plenty of people have put their full names to their disgust in the days since. Including a senior marketer on LinkedIn, where there’s absolutely no hiding your identity.

Even your supposed client called bullshit on the idea telling British IT title The Register:

“The Migrant Offshore Aid Network did not develop the app with Grey for Good nor do we feel that there [are] any advantages to having the public scan old sat images for potential disasters that in reality unfold in seconds.”

So even the people you’re supposed to be helping say it wouldn’t actually help. That’s not a great look.

And then to compound it all you come out with this half-arsed and petulant statement pointing the finger of blame at everyone but the people it should be levelled at. It’s another example of a global network showing it is completely unable to manage its own reputation.

BBDO’s global creative chief Dave Lubars gave a good lesson in how to do it when he called out one of his own agencies from the stage at Cannes this year: “I learned last night that one of our very own agencies had a pretty scammy ad in the festival, and it won a Lion.

“I told them to return it. Because I don’t want that kind of Lion. BBDO doesn’t want that kind of Lion.”

AlmapBBDO did return it, and were allowed to win Agency of the Year still. But that’s another story.


Almap’s ‘Scammy’ ad for Bayer

Swift action and an acknowledgement of the problem makes BBDO look a hell of a lot more credible than the Grey network right now, especially after this statement.

While we’re here Owen perhaps you want to answer a few other questions like: Why was an app that is still in testing phase put onto the App Store?; why was a non-completed concept entered into Cannes?; why has it taken three weeks for this mealy mouthed statement non-apology to be forthcoming?; and why won’t anyone from Grey engage openly and honestly on this topic?

There’s still questions for Cannes on this one, including whether the perpetrators will be banned from entering for a period of time? It will be interesting if the organisers of the Cannes Lions use the return of the award as an excuse to sweep the whole affair under the carpet. After all, it would be a bad moment to annoy Grey’s parent company WPP just as boss Sir Martin Sorrell is questioning the value of his multimillion dollar investment in the event.

Owen, Grey has been caught with its hand firmly in the cookie jar on this one. Just replace a hunger for cookies with a craving for awards.

It’s probably a little late now to salvage the reputation of the Grey for Good unit, inside the industry at least.

The best thing they could do is get their heads down now and concentrate on solutions for some of the world’s big issues that actually work. Not in concept, not in a testing mode, and not playing on the emotion surrounding one of the biggest humanitarian crises the world has faced since World War 2.

If I were them I wouldn’t be entering any award shows for the foreseeable future, because any juror worth their salt will be picking over every element of their entry like advertising’s version of CSI.

But awards aren’t the be all and end all, right?

After all, a good deed is its own reward.

Alex Hayes is the editor of Mumbrella.com.au


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