How did a non functioning app end up on the Cannes Lions shortlist?

Adland: 

In the Cannes Lions promo and activation shortlist the judging rules are simple: they're judged on 20% strategy; 30% idea; 20% execution; and 30% impact & results. The rules regarding scam ads are also simple, spec ads are not allowed. In the case of print it is as simple as having the print ad run somewhere, in the case of an app... Well maybe it's OK if it's just a concept app as long as it get tons of press? And if the app works in theory, but is not quite ready for prime-time yet?

The iSeaApp which is currently on the Cannes Lions promo and activation shortlist is a non-functioning app. The idea is possible to do, but this app isn't actually doing it. Not right now. This didn't stop Reuters, Wired, Mashable, CBSNews, Huffingtonpost, Newsweek, The Boston Globe and many more news outlets to write about the app though. Some sort of award for PR is deserved.

The idea is as simple to think up as it is technically resource intense to do. While the MOAS boats have drones that fly around scanning the sea, the app claims that satellites send sea images realtime to the app. The sea is spliced into sections and app users get a little piece of blue sea to scan for boats. If you find a boat you can flag it, and a rescue mission will be launched. Save the world! Download from the app store now! Satellites? Isn't that a bit costly? Why yes, it can be. And why does the app want your passport number? Hmm? Also, it's not original, Colorado-based satellite company DigitalGlobe uses crowdsourcing in their project Tomnod to identify earthquake damage, population mapping, vehicles and other stuff around the globe.

MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), a Malta registered charity, actually do save migrants that are sailing the seas in dangerous vessels. This is good, because it relieves the overworked and underpaid Greek, Maltese, Libyan, Turkish and Italian coast guards and several other countries' rescue charities. What would be even better, of course, is if people didn't cram onto small boats and risk theirs and their children's lives just to be able to claim asylum in EU once they touch EU territory. I would also like peace on earth, ktx.

MOAS does have drones and two ships, the M.Y. Phoenix and the Responde, active in the search for migrants. Together these drones and ships cover 2.5 million km² of sea in a 9 hour span. Monitoring all that blue is impossible for the crew alone. This is when Grey Singapore stepped in and Low Jun Jek, executive creative director, says the idea was simply to “crowdsource the monitoring of the vast seas through satellite images and the millions of smartphone users around the world.” I think I found a buzzword bingo being filled. It's not a bad idea, it's just not actually being done.

When you hit up the website iSeaapp, you'll find that the login doesn't work, and was never intended to. The login function only has one response, and that is "Invalid Username / Password!"


$('#log-in').on('submit', function () {
alert('Invalid Username / Password!');
return false;
});

But to be fair, logging in on the website isn't the same as using the app. What happens when you use the iPhone app? The app has been updated on a near daily basis since it went live in April, so this all depends on which version you have. A lot of people have noticed that they're getting a static image of the sea, the same as used in the iTunes app description. The bigger question is, why use the crowd of humans and not some hyper-sensitive image recognition software on the live drone feed being gathered by MOAS? Oh right, for the virtual signalling feelgood factor, because humans talking to each other about this app will do more for the migrants who survive the passage than a computer speedily flagging areas that may contain boats in danger. This is high level PR. Very clever.

We've reached out to Cannes Lions to get an official statement regarding this entry in the promo and activation category but have not heard back yet. It's far more likely that DDB Berlin's "check it before it's gone" wins in this category, as the removal of the naked breasts from Facebook and Instagram was the entire point. It 'didn't work', as Facebook bans nipples, and that was the whole idea.

It's not a bad idea, it's just not actually working. We should just make an award for best case studies of ideas and call it a day at this point.

To be clear; MOAS accepts donations and takes Reuters journalists with them out to sea to help save migrants. They are actually scanning the sea for migrants, just not with this app. At least not yet. As it says in the Wired article, they need to get it financed, hopefully this will be solved before the Android version goes live.

"The app is currently reliant on access to satellite images from a select group of partners, and there is a cost in taking and processing them, admits Low. But he the app will “showcase the power of the idea” and perhaps drum up more financial support."


Update! They won! The iSea App won a bronze Lion just as the hashtag #ISeaFraud started to appear, and the app was removed from iTunes, while MOAS clarified on their minimal involvement. Cannes Lions has yet to make a statement on the app.

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Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm after growing up in Kiruna, Raleigh and Jiddah.