Reviewing the digital problems revealed by the "I Sea" scandal
There is hypocrisy here, one that we must all admit we share in. From agencies that include the number creative awards won in yearly evaluation forms, and creative directors who give preferrential treatment to the young guns that add to their metal collections, from all of us who put extensive lists of awards (no matter how local/global or how relevant) our projects have won on our CVs, to the slew of award shows popping up for agencies desperate to announce they've won quite literally anything. Yet the industry is casting a stone at the agency that was found out.
What this reveals is that we are clearly not a proper digital industry yet. Similar to law enforcement, education, entertainment, our industry has been disrupted by technology and the old structures and norms have not adapted or gotten ahead of the new developments. Here are three indicators in relation to "I Sea" that remind us how digital we are not-yet:
/ Execution in digital is inherently about utility, a clear line going beyond concept and into real function
Where things have gotten fuzzy is in the transference of scam work from traditional forms to digital. A piece of traditional work (print, OOH, film, etc.) is considered good or award-worthy based on concept. Execution for traditional work is based squarely on craft whereas effective digital work is based on actual functionality. Being "user-centered" doesn't only mean having a consumer-cultural insight, but that based on a digital build that actually works in and out, top to bottom.
When trying to create sound digital work ideas must be reviewed (if not jointly conceptualized) by technical teams. When possible user testing should validate concepts, initial design work and user flows (would X be useful to and usable by Y target audience?) Some ideas may die if not feasible to execute, even if the concepts seem strong. Some creatives may not react well to comments that stemmed from usability and UX issues. It takes ongoing testing, always-beta, optimization to move a solution to its most functional form.
Where we stumble as an industry is that concepts are judged as solutions, being awarded even if they don't quite (or don't at all) work. THere were so many errors on the "I Sea" app resulting in diminished - or absent - utility.
/ Juries are made up of CDs and ECDs who may have little digital or technical experience. Is it up to the jury to validate the entries? And who is vetting the jury?
Arguably the most important show in the industry not only let this entry through to judging but awarded it. Which tells us that Cannes is happy to accept every claim and statistic as fact, disregarding any potential errors whether they stem from exaggeration, malicious intent or even human error. There does not appear to be any fact-checking as long as entry fees are paid. "I Sea" was apparently not even launched with the permission of the client it was supposedly representing.
Here is a list of members this year's Promo & Activation Jury. How much digital experience do they have? (This is a real question; I have no idea.) One interesting name on the Jury list is a Creative Director from Gray Singapore itself, which is extremely fishy. Given the outcome of the "I Sea" fiasco they seem to be either digitally inexperienced or have questionable enough quality standards to let a non-functioning entry through.
/ We were found out by people from outside the industry.
The alarms were raised not by industry members, but by non-agency technical experts. Maybe we forget that everyone in the world is using and/or is moving into digital and technology. Entire industry disruptors exist based on digital expertise. We as an industry have not the technical prowess that a Facebook or Google has. Those guys make functional programs and websites and apps and games that might never be considered creative by Cannes standards. But they work. People can carry out actual tasks on them. It seems that we don't hold ourselves to this standard of functionality yet, at least in terms of award work.
I'm not exempt from this award-hungry behavior but seeing what has happened with "I Sea" makes me think that we should actively question these prevalent practices that we devote so much time, energy and money to, and that we need to think harder about what it means to be digital.
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