Grey Group has decided to return the Bronze Lion it won for a refugee-locating app, I Sea, which Apple pulled from iTunes not long before the prize was awarded at the Cannes festival last month. The agency's move, announced today, follows a social media storm charging that the app was not real.
In a bitterly worded statement today, a Grey spokesman defended the app, but said the shop had had enough of the controversy and wanted to be done with it.
"During Cannes we said the app was real and its creator, Grey for Good in Singapore, is a highly respected philanthropic unit that has helped numerous non-profit organizations," said Grey Chief Communications Officer Owen Dougherty in the statement. "Moreover, Grey is one of the most creatively awarded agencies in the world with the highest ethical standards."
The statement added that since Grey won more than 90 Cannes Lions this year, "there is no need for scam projects."
Then it continued: "However, given the unwarranted, unfair, unrelenting attacks by unnamed bloggers, we are putting an end to this and returning the Bronze Lion so there is not even the hint of impropriety or a question of our integrity," he said in the statement. "The saying no good deed goes unpunished is apt in this case."
Apple decided to remove the app, which claims to help spot and aid refugees, from its store at the end of June after users flagged it as not being functional. At the time, Grey said the app was still in its testing phase, and Cannes said in a release that it was reviewing it "after the veracity of the app was brought into question."
The online flap began with a Twitter account, @SwiftOnSecurity, which has 132,000 followers, tweeting about I Sea that it was a "fake app." A tweet from June 20 stated: "'I Sea' app advertised as way for people to help stranded refugees is a fake designed to win an advertising award."
As the posts gained social traction, media outlets like the New York TImes weighed in, helping ignite the blogosphere. On Tuesday, Ali Bullock, global senior manager of sponsorship and social media for Formula 1 at Infiniti Motor Co., wrote a scathing blog on LinkedIn entitled, "An open letter to Grey Singapore: Why I will never hire Grey as an agency in my lifetime. #Cannes."
"This isn't someone passing out at Cannes from too much Champagne, this is no joke. It was a human life lost for the most tragic of reasons. Hope of a better life," wrote Mr. Bullock. "And Grey won an award off the back of this. Did the champagne and caviar have a salty taste as you celebrated your win? Imagine the salt consumed by people drowning... A truly horrid way to die."
Cannes representatives did not immediately respond to inquiry for comment about Grey returning the Bronze Lion.