Thursday, September 15, 2016

When our work doesn't work

Reviewing the digital problems revealed by the "I Sea" scandal

One of the recent industry scandals is the recent "I Sea" app by Grey Singapore - submitted to Cannes, awarded at Cannes, and then revealed to be more concept than actual solution.

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.

On a larger note, industry folks must admit that there's a little hypocrisy here. "I Sea" isn't the first sham of the agency award circuit. Industry members openly call these types of projects "scam" work. Agencies search for clients who will allow them to come up with "initiatives" (as opposed to real briefs from existing clients that must solve business challenges), take the lead in coming up with both issues and ideas, and sometimes even pay to print, air or publish the work for the minimum exposure required.

We are all complicit in this, from agencies that include the number creative awards won in yearly evaluation forms to creative directors who give preferential treatment to the young guns that add to their metal collections, and from all of us who put extensive lists of awards (no matter how relevant) our projects have won on our CVs, to the slew of random award shows popping up for agencies desperate to announce they've won literally anything. Gray may have gone too far, but we all create the atmosphere for it.

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 whether we really and truly want to be digital.

Thousands of migrants are dying at sea. This charity is trying to save them
Grey Singapore’s migrant-saving app shortlisted at Cannes Lions called out as ‘terrible fake’
Apple Pulled This App From iTunes the Same Day It Won a Lion at Cannes
Grey Grudgingly Returns Bronze Lion It Won at Cannes for Questionable 'I SEA' App
Grey Officially Returns ‘I SEA’ App Lion, Clearly Isn’t Happy About It
Grey Returns Bronze Lion After Blogger Backfire
How Grey Group's 'I Sea' app came undone
Grey Singapore’s ‘fake’ refugee-saving app removed from Apple store, slammed by client, wins at Cannes


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