Why Two Days In The South Of France Is Good For Our Health

This year Health took a place at the table – or should I say at a table alongside the table that is the Cannes Lions Festival of creativity. A week before the big kick-off I had the pleasure of serving on the Health and Wellness Jury and was astounded by the quality of some of the entries.

We spent our time short-listing and deliberating the bronze, silver, gold awards, as well as agreeing on a Grand Prix. There were some very late nights and a lot of passion in the room as we defended and objected, voted and re-voted – knowing all the time that even a short list at Cannes can make such a difference to a creative’s life and the pride it instills inside the nominated agency. We were also very aware that we were the first Lions Health jury and our decisions would be scrutinized, questioned, applauded or berated. In the end, we were proud of where we ended up and the first Lions Health awards were born.  



But the outcome was not so good for the U.S. Out of a total short list of 208, the U.S. had just 24 and, of those, only four were converted to metal. I don’t believe it was a conspiracy or judgment made against the U.S. (which I did hear a couple of times), but I do think there is a need to understand what we U.S. creatives and clients must do to win at Cannes and ask ourselves whether anything that is as rigorously regulated as pharma can ever truly stand a chance. The answer is yes, if we learn from this first Lions Health.  
The winners had a couple of things in common; they were great ideas simply and elegantly crafted. One of my favorites was a cause-related piece Ogilvy Mumbai did for Operation Smile ;{ to :) for children with cleft palates.  

Another was Langland UK's “What's the true cost of MS spasticity?” This elegant campaign is simple and beautiful even though it does have a ton of “fair balance” factored in it, that did not get in the way of getting the single-minded message across. This is because the art director took time to craft it and treat it as a piece of typography rather than bolt-on legalese that is separate from the main communication. Some of our regulatory people would (or should I say "may") say that it was a tad too small, but this isn't about the size of the type; it is a plea to art directors to treat the safety information with as much reverence as any other element in the ad as showed in this piece.  

It reaffirms that an ad that presents a simple, clean and insightful idea will move people and Cannes judges to take action. In the U.S., pharma advertising has evolved in such a way that it looks and sounds very different from any other advertising. In fact, on the global stage, it stands out for all the wrong reasons: bulleted copy, stock-shot lifestyle photography and real photography that looks like stock-shot lifestyle photography.

There are all kinds of explanations about why this is so: clients, research, regulatory, etc. But, ultimately, it is us being overly cautious about moving too fast. When cars were first invented, a man had to walk in front of them with a red flag to warn people of the hazards. Because health marketing is relatively new, you could say that the rules that are in place at the moment are doing the same job as the flag-waving man. But the invention and success of this year’s Health Lions proves that this industry is catching up and moving forward. I’m confident we will soon creep above five miles an hour and the man with the flag will be a passenger in the car and the trunk will be full of Lions.

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