The Best of Cannes Lions Health: Smart Ideas, Well-Executed

June 20, 2016


The sheer volume of inspiring and excellent work shared at this year’s Cannes Lions Health has been remarkable—from breathtakingly beautiful films to stunning works of art and fantastically creative social campaigns. As I watched the awards ceremony presentations, I had two realizations. First, as health communicators we often get weighed down by our largely conservative and heavily regulated environment, but the fact is we simply have no excuse not to deliver truly creative work for our clients. And, second, the best ideas are often the most simple.

Yes, health is a different beast than other sectors. It involves highly personal and serious subject matters, a patchwork of stakeholders and audiences, and heavily regulated and multi-layered approval processes. But I believe—and this year’s Lions Health winners are evidence—that we must find ways to remain committed to creativity, even within this box. For example, you can’t watch the Philips (client) Breathless Choir (Grand Prix Lion) award-winning film without realizing that it is possible to rethink how we approach communications. That a medical device campaign can—and should—focus less on what the product does and more on what it means for people’s lives.

It’s not easy, but we have the responsibility to serve as ambassadors for the creative force that drives truly authentic connection. We must find ways to partner with our clients to tame the two-headed LMR-CYA beast that threatens to suck the creative life out of any idea.

Which brings me back to the idea itself. So many times I think we and our clients feel the pressure to deliver “a big idea,” to have massive brilliant wrap-around campaigns that can be everything to all people. What was so clear to me about the phenomenal work at Cannes Lions Health is that it’s often the smart, simple idea that is most powerful.

Simple doesn’t mean easy or obvious. It takes a lot of work to get to that core insight that leads to the core idea. But you know it when you see it. There is indeed a-ha moment where it is so clear that it needs no explanation, such as:

  • Creating an eye chart using pictures of power tools instead of letters to help identify vision damage among illiterate construction workers in Dubai.
  • Capturing patients’ last words heard by nurses to educate physicians about the important and very human role of palliative care.
  • Using men as models to get around social media image restrictions to educate about self-breast exams.

Finally, a smart idea alone isn’t enough to break through. Craft matters. From the materials we use, to the messages we write and the plans we execute, we must go above and beyond to bring our ideas to life. Based on the work coming out of teams from around the globe, it is clear that we as health communicators have the opportunity to take a traditionally conservative industry into a bold, new era of possibilities. Take a look at the Cannes Lions Health winners, and get inspired.