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Dr Charles' Lucky Iron Fish isn't as fishy as you might think.

Every year in Cannes something wins a Grand Prix, and every year immediately after, this grand prix is called into question. It's simply not Cannes Lions without a little controversy, and this year the dubious honor fell to the Lucky Iron Fish idea, from Geometry Global's Dubai office.

In comment threads around the ad world (including here on Adland) and all over twitter, people have been accusing Geometry Global for stealing an idea that already existed. As if cooking with iron was space age technology in the first place - you know, we weren't using cast iron skillets for hundreds of years just for their superior heat holding ability. The comments have pointed to Wikipedia - the most unreliable narrator on the internet - as proof that the Lucky Iron Fish existed years ago and was created by a Dr Christopher Charles. The same Charles that's mentioned Science Alert and BBC Science news earlier this year when they reported on the project. The protesting commentators will have you know that if Dr Charles came up with the idea based on research in 2008, with a the project start in 2012, it can't possibly win a design and PR award in 2015. Also, the protestors will have you know, it's totally Dr Charles idea and he totally did all that PR all by his lonesome. Or somesuch. Some protestors even claim the fish design itself is Gavin Armstrong's design, he's the President and CEO of the lucky iron fish, and also a PhD Candidate in biomedical science. Product design must be his hobby, then.

Geometry Global has a response to all this:

Dr. Charles was involved in this project having creating the original prototype of the iron fish.

There has since been years of product development to create the workable version that was launched in October 2014 and which won the award. Dr. Charles serves on the board of Lucky Iron Fish who, together with Geometry Global, collected the award last night.

That's right, an iron fish that stops smiling when it's time to replace it didn't just get designed overnight. Considering I once worked on a magazine layout grid for seven months, I can believe designing a product that will change after use may take some time and a few failed attempts. And did you notice Lucky Iron Fish was there collecting the award too? How many creatives have watched only the ECD & CCO from their agency go fetch the lion-glory they created, while they're still at the office?

Dr. Christopher Charles wrote a thesis entitled ‘The Happy Fish’, researched from 2008-2011 at the University of Guelph. This identified that cooking with a block of iron enabled iron to be absorbed into the body and he created a fish made out of iron, but it contained contaminants and broke easily.

Gavin Armstrong joined the project in 2012, helping to improve the scientific composition of the product, bringing elements of Cambodian custom to the design and creating a fish whose smile faded when it needed to be replaced. In the same year, Lucky Iron Fish was established as a B-Corp by Armstrong to bring the product to market and realize its international scalability in collaboration with Geometry Global/Memac Ogilvy.

This latest iteration is the award-winning version that was launched in October 2014. Gavin Armstrong is CEO of Lucky Iron Fish and Dr. Christopher Charles serves on the Board of Directors.

All clear? Not quite yet - as people have pointed out how similar lucky iron fish case study is to the Lucky Iron Fish co film (below) uploaded to youtube in July of 2014. Also, the credits on the entry list involved Matt Cullen & Gary Tranter, co-founders of Singapore advertising agency Arcade who wrote an open letter at Campaignbrief calling "bullshit" on the whole thing. They created the original case film, which Geometry Global then asked if they could use. Geometry Global even added Arcade's credits to the Cannes entry. Sharing credits now, the original sin.

So many people have been asking me about this and even congratulating me for winning at Cannes I felt I had to write something. I did not win at Cannes and my agency had nothing to do with the entry.

When the guys from Geometry Dubai called me, asking if they could use our Iron Fish footage to raise awareness for the Iron Fish project, I expressed reluctance as it's not normal to release creative work to other agencies, but they assured me it was simply for PR purposes to generate donations.

I agreed. Anything to help this worthwhile project.

I have to say I was surprised to see they won the Product Design Grand Prix at Cannes.

Even more surprised to see they'd used the footage, music and exact words from my script, in their case study video. The video implies the agency Geometry spotted a need, came up with the Iron Fish idea and somehow designed the little fish.


I spent a long time in Cambodia with Chris Charles, the actual product designer of the Iron Fish (though he'd probably hate me calling him that) shooting a spot for my client Google and in the process learnt much about the amazing work they are doing out there. It's not just the Iron Fish you know; the ceramic pot water filtration system is simply brilliant and is delivering clean water to many villages.

In the whole time I was there, I saw no one from Geometry Dubai's Product Design Department, beavering away to help the people of Cambodia.

If winning is at Cannes is part of the PR awareness drive, I've got no problem at all with it, but I don't think you should claim an idea and design when it's not yours.

If you're interested, the ad I shot with Matt Cullen, Rebecca So and Chin Chin-Han Yu can be seen here. Jonathan Finnigan was the Director and the beautiful music was created by Gerard Fitzgerald at Song Zu Singapore.

Gary Tranter

Founder/ECD Arcade

It simply isn't Cannes without plenty of rosé followed by sour grapes - but do weigh in, what do you think about the Lucky Iron Fish winning the Product Design grand prix?

Gavin Armstrong, the CEO of Lucky Iron Fish has released a statement posted here : Gavin Armstrong from Lucky Iron Fish & the Cannes Lions award where he also poses with the Grand Prix on the winning eve.

Updated statement from Geometry Global Friday 26Th June 21:40 CET

Geometry Global Dubai and Memac Ogilvy MENA are proud to have partnered with the creators of the Lucky Iron Fish product to bring wider exposure and commercial success to this important public health innovation. We have been transparent in the Cannes Lions award entries about the contributions of all the players including Gavin Armstrong, CEO of Lucky Iron Fish, Dr. Chris Charles, Director on the Board of Lucky Iron Fish, and all of the supporting agencies. The product design and prototype were created by Lucky Iron Fish; Geometry Global helped to introduce the product to a wider audience.

With the misunderstanding that there could only be a single entrant company across all categories, we entered the Product Design category on behalf of our client and were therefore named ‘entrant company’. Our approach was in full agreement with Lucky Iron Fish company and all partners were credited in the entry. We now understand that Product Design could have been entered directly by Lucky Iron Fish without Geometry Global and Memac Ogilvy as an 'entrant company.' Therefore, we have agreed with the Cannes Lions that Lucky Iron Fish should be the sole recipient of the Grand Prix in Product Design, as accepted by CEO Gavin Armstrong during the ceremony in Cannes on Wednesday night. It is an honor to be partners of Lucky Iron Fish, and we are pleased that it has garnered recognition by the juries at Cannes. We look forward to being part of the continued success of this project.

Update Mon 29th June 22:00 CET
Cannes Lions official statement - same as the above, pretty much.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Agency Spy's picture

To understand what happened here your readers should know that both mr tranter and mr cullen are fairly high profile ex employees of ogilvy in singapore who left sometime ago....If you connect the dots its not unusual to expect that they would not miss any opprtunity to score some points at the expense of their ex employer.

Dabitch's picture

It is true that Mr Cullen, and Mr Tranter used to work for Ogilvy in Singapore.

Memac Ogilvy MENA joined/became Geometry Global Dubai in the merger between G2, OgilvyAction and JWTAction and part of WPP and probably the worlds largest "activation" ad agency network now, in 2014.

The four founders of Arcade are formerly 'Regional Creative Partner Asia Pacific' of Ogilvy Singapore: Gary Tranter and Matt Cullen, plus their fellow Aussie expat Nick Marrett and Mark Taylor.

Arcade were listed in the credits for their work on the case study film which was submitted to the PR & Product category in Cannes. As were agency 17 Triggers. The "entrant company" listing for both categories was Geometry Global (who also paid the entrant fee) and Lucky Iron Fish Co was well aware of Geometry sending in their work to the awards with credits to all parties, as they've described in their statement.

Agency Spy's picture

This "collaboration" also marks a historical world first where 2 holding companies can lay claim to one grand prix if they really wanted to. Geometry is wpp owned and publicis owns a controlling stake in arcade.

The Smoking AdMan's picture

"Lucky Iron Fish was established as a B-Corp by Armstrong to bring the product to market and realize its international scalability in collaboration with Geometry Global/Memac Ogilvy.
This latest iteration is the award-winning version that was launched in October 2014. "

So the final product development was in collaboration with Geometry Global/Memac Ogilvy? We're bringing out the tar and feathers for this?

Dabitch's picture

@Agency Spy yeah I think that's an interesting point, WPP & Public both won Grand Prix! The credits list of this entry was super long.

Gordon's picture

It's not sour grapes to call bullshit on this - and this isn't about disgruntled creatives who want their own piece of an award.

This is about integrity, and transparency. Geometry Global purported to have been instrumental in the creation of this project. They were not. Beyond entering the Fish into Cannes – which was a very smart thing to do – I'm not sure what they have done. They didn't create any of the branding or design collateral, they didn't create the website, they didn't create the case study films.

We know they didn't create the fish.

They also didn't design the toolkits for local Cambodian sales people to go into rural communities talk about the benefits of cooking with the fish.

"Geometry Global helped to introduce the product to a wider audience." Really? Ok, whatever that means.

I'm really happy for Lucky Iron Fish - it's an amazing project, and deserves the award. Geometry doesn't, so all good now.