The world's scientific and social network for malaria professionals
Subscribe to free Newsletter | 11150 malaria professionals are enjoying the free benefits of MalariaWorld today

Mercedes-Benz should win Cannes creativity award!

October 23, 2012 - 22:00 -- Bart G.J. Knols

In July I was approached by a Dutch radio station that brought a most interesting YouTube video to my attention. It features an award winning idea by Go Outside magazine (based in Brazil), this being the 'Repellent radio'. It was created by the Sao Paulo-based advertising agency Talent, and it won the Radio Grand Prix award 2012 at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Take a look...

By sending out a 15 kHz signal along with radio broadcasts between 6 and 8 pm, the idea of using ultrasonic sounds to repel mosquitoes once again surfaced. You have read all about that in an old entry on MalariaWorld when KLM and other airlines stopped selling ultrasonic gadgets after we convinced them that ultrasonic sounds do nothing to repel mosquitoes. For those of you still in doubt, please read the Cochrane review that I attach once more to this blog.

One would assume that this grand idea of sending out ultrasonic sounds by radio to repel mosquitoes would be scrutinised by the jury of the awards. And the question was indeed asked: 'Did the radio signals really repel mosquitoes'? According to judge and chief creative officer Bob Moore of Publicis USA it did. Would any of the other judges then have dared to asked the question 'Ok - then show us the evidence'? Apparently not, because the 'Repellent radio' came out as the winner after a hot debate. But the debate is not over yet...

Did the jury consult experts in the field? If they would have, they would have understood that the entry by Go Outside magazine is not effective, and as a result Mercedes-Benz would have won with their 'Alert assist' entry, made by Net#work BBDO in South Africa.

We contacted Mr. Moore and Talent with a request to provide evidence the 'repellent radio' works. Mr. Moore never answered our emails, and Talent claimed that as long as ultrasonic gadgets are available on the Brazilian market that they did nothing wrong.

When we contacted the CEO (Mr. Philip Thomas) and Chairman (Mr. Terry Savage) of the Cannes Festival they first claimed that there are also scientists that believe that ultrasounds work. When asked for the names of these scientists we never received an answer.

Nevertheless, Go Outside/Talent scooped a prestigious prize at the Cannes festival which they did not deserve (unless the Festival is happy to award a Grand Prix to an idea that doesn't work). In doing so they have made people believe that they receive protection from ultrasonic sounds emitted by radios - this is unethical as listeners may have refrained from taking their normal protective measures (like using topical repellents) and therefore may have been exposed to disease-transmitting mosquitoes (dengue and malaria are prevalent in most of Brazil).

But worse is to come when you read comments made by Roberto Fernandez, another creative director whose entomological expertise we should not wonder about. He claims: "An easy mosquito repellent that doesn't have to be bought or applied could potentially be used more widely than the three-week campaign done by Talent, especially in places where mosquito-transmitted diseases are rampant. It could be broadened, like partnering with the health department [to broadcast] in areas whether there is dengue fever," he said. "There are devices that repel mosquitoes but you don't carry them around with you. Imagine people listening to music and not having to think about mosquitoes."

Fernandez actually claims that the repellent radio can help as a means to control dengue...

In spite of providing the Festival with ample evidence to show that ultrasounds do not work to repel mosquitoes (we even sent them a video in which we use a 15 kHz signal on a phone and stick a hand holding the phone into a cage of mosquitoes - and get bitten (a lot!)) they have decided not to withdraw the prize and admit the mistake made by the jury.

Globally, the industry for these ultrasounds is booming - visit the appstores and see for yourself how many apps with ultrasounds are available. None of these work, and continue to mislead unknowing consumers around the world. If the appstores ban apps with pornographic or racist content, then why do they allow apps that mislead consumers and possibly have a negative health impact?

It is high time that as a global community we take action against the sales of these products - in fact, governments should ban the sales thereof.

For now, the Cannes Festival's refusal to withdraw the prize will merely lead to a boost for the bogus product industry. We all know about counterfeit drugs. Maybe we should prepare for 'counterfeit mosquito control' as well...

PDF icon CD005434_7 (1).pdf0 bytes
Image icon Science_Cannes Festival.png446.15 KB


Submitted by Guest (not verified) on

One for Ben Goldacre to comment upon in the UK Guardian perhaps.

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Yes - please forward to Ben Goldacre if you know him. Many thanks, Steve!