No Roar From Pharma at Cannes Lions Health

June 15, 2014

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And the Grand Prix winner is…Well, turns out we’re going to have to wait until next year at least in the pharmaceutical category. The pharma jury at the inaugural Cannes Lions Health festival shocked the audience at the Palais des Festivals by opting not to award one, throwing down a challenge to clients and agencies that they would have to up their game to warrant a Grand Prix.

This was a stunning statement and one that will no doubt help to raise the bar across the board for communications within the healthcare industry. The first-ever health-focused festival turned out to be more about the exploration of creativity than a celebration of a mission accomplished.

“We made a determined effort at the beginning not to award because it was good or OK,” Jeremy Perrott, pharma jury president and global creative director at McCann, told Ad Age after the ceremony. “We don’t believe we’re quite there yet.”

The same was not true in the other major category, Health and Wellness, where jurors were clearly swept away by the sweet inspiration of “Mother Book,” a companion volume for pregnant mothers from Japan’s Dentsu Nagoya on behalf of Kishokai’s Bell-Net Obstetrics. The campaign, which won the one and only Grand Prix award of the two-day festival, captured the overall theme of the evening—that healthcare is at the center of the most important thing in life, which is life itself.

The Mother Book literally grows with the unborn baby and provides the mother the ability to jot down thoughts and sentiments to be later shared with her child. The 40-page book coincides with the baby’s 40-week gestation.

Of the six Gold Lions handed out in the Health and Wellness category, half went to various offices of the Japanese agency Dentsu, including two for “Batting Practice” campaigns on behalf a Chinese herbal medicine product Baika Gofuku Gan out of Dentsu Creative X Tokyo and Dentsu Kansai Osaka.

The other three were taken home by Havas Worldwide Helsinki for “Monsters,” a campaign about parental alcohol awareness from A-Clinic Foundation; Leo Burnett Colombia for “Cancer Tweets” on behalf of the League Against Cancer; and Leo Burnett Sao Paulo for “My Blood is Red and Black” about organ donation awareness for Hemoba.

If there was no roar out of pharma, Cannes certainly heard loud and clear from Asia Pacific and Latin America. In general, the winners’ circle was overwhelmingly dominated by  campaigns from the two regions. U.S. agencies made a relatively poor showing, with only one Gold Lion for Hill Holliday out of Boston for “Mind Your Meds.” This is a campaign on prescription drug abuse for Partnership at Drugfree.org.

While there is always much excitement around the promise of technology in healthcare, several low-tech solutions stood out at the Lions Health.  One great example is an initiative out of South Africa from Y&R that used a clear bar of soap with a toy inside as an inducement to children to wash their hands frequently to reduce life-threatening diseases like typhoid and cholera. “Hope Soap” which took home a Bronze Lion, was created on behalf of Safety Lab and operated on the simple premise aimed at a positive behavior, “If you want to get to the toy, you have to use the soap.”

P&G, awarded with a Silver Lion, used a different creative approach to a similar end in the Philippines. When it was learned that kids don’t wash their hands because they can’t see the germs, Saatchi & Saatchi created stamps with cartoon images of germs that teachers could imprint on kids hands to get them to wash well enough to clean off the stamp.

In all, there were an impressive 1,423 entries from more than 50 countries; one-third came out of the pharmaceutical industry. More than 800 delegates attended Lions Health.

Those hunting for inspiration would probably agree that the first festival of creativity in healthcare was a success. It will push us all to be more curious, think bigger, and transform our work from an expected “good enough” to an unexpected excellence.