It sounded too good to be true.
“I Sea”, created by advertising agency Grey Group Singapore, claimed to use the power of crowdsourcing to collectively scan and help save the thousands of migrants who are stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.
Together with its rather believable trailer, the app promised its users that instead of passively watching the news of drowning refugees every day, we could be scanning the Mediterranean sea to spot refugee boats and then sending appropriate help – all via the app.
Over the last few days, international media including Wired, Mashable and others excitedly flashed the story of this life-changing app across their pages. But as it turns out, the app has been called out for being non-functional and done for the sake of winning an advertising award.
As it goes, the bogus “I Sea” had won a bronze award at Cannes Lions, an international advertising awards show, held in France.
Backlash against the app began when technology experts including @SwiftOnSecurity began scrutinising the app beyond its heartwarming surface, calling it “feel-good bullshit”.
Feel-good bullshit: Instead of machine vision, "save refugees" app asks users to look at empty images of the ocean https://t.co/RNnWLqPM68
— SoS (@SwiftOnSecurity) June 19, 2016
Swift, who has 131,000 followers on Twitter, pointed out in a series of tweets that the app was showing an image of the Mediterranean Sea which was not even in the right time of the day, when the app supposedly was “based in real time”.
The app gave a false impression that users were seeing live weather from a specific part of the Mediterranean Sea, but as iOS expert Rosnya Keller discovered, what users were seeing we actually images from Google Maps, which means it is not in real time as promised.
The Map/images is from Google Maps (which means out of date. The weather is for Misrata, Libya https://t.co/rzP58dpvDO
— Rosyna Keller (@rosyna) June 20, 2016
iOS developer Alex Kent was just as disappointed with the app, calling it “fake” and “disgusting”.
Hi, I believe this app is a fake. Which is pretty disgusting. My ‘live’ satellite image is same as in all the screenshots.
— alex kent (@alxknt) June 20, 2016
In truth, bogus app does not really split up the sea for its users to scan and spot refugees. The location are all the same tricking them into thinking this is somehow live, as media like the Daily Dot shared. Others questioned the viability of an app that can supposedly provide real-time and high-quality resolution of an entire ocean,
Apple has also removed the app from the Apple store.
In response to the controversy, Grey Group Singapore posted a statement on its website saying that the app is in “testing mode” (editor’s note: the statement seems to have been pulled from its website), even though it does not make sense why an app that was in the testing mode was released in the Apple Store.
A Grey Group spokesperson also told Adweek, “We said it was in a testing stage, and they have some satellite issues to work out. For some reason, a developer unknown to us has pushed the story that it is fake or a hoax. Grey Group is one of the most creatively awarded global agencies around, and we adhere to the highest ethical standards.”
Whether or not it does work will only be determined when the app is out of its purported “testing stage”.
Controversial Campaigns Are Nothing New
While the fake refugee-spotting app is morally questionable, this is not the first time that a brand has been exposed for misleading and controversial advertising.
In 2011, New Balance was in the heat for its false walking shoe ads that it said helped its users burn calories and tone up when in actual fact studies did not find any special benefits of wearing the shoe. Instead, it, and toning shoes in general, turned out to be an injury hazard.
Another one of these campaigns was actually made in Singapore! This came in the form of a series of print adverts created by JWT Singapore for Australian brewers Coopers Premium Light lager and boy, did it brew controversy.
The posters showed ‘unattractive’ women, the Coopers Premium bottle and tagline: Only 2.9% alcohol, implying that drinkers will not go overboard with this alcohol and make “poor choices”.
Image credit: Adland TV
The questionable ad won a Press Bronze at the 2008 Cannes Lions but consumers soon found out that the ad does not exist. Somehow the ads resurfaced online and Coopers clarified that they had never commissioned nor ran the demeaning ads by the company.
Brands have nothing to gain from launching scam campaigns. While dubious gimmicks can catapult an advert or product into temporary fame, it is only a matter of time before the Internet brigade sniffs out the bogus campaigns.
Featured image: Independent UK