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Cannes Lions shows health creative is becoming an art form

Cannes Lions

If you ever want an example of art imitating life, look no further than Cannes Lions 2022. Because just like life these past two years – in fact possibly because of life these past two years – everywhere you turned at the International Festival of Creativity, people were interested in health. Everyone, including the organisers, who thankfully saw all this coming. Just a few years ago, health was a Cannes Lions sideshow – relegated to the back seats, with the awards dished out the weekend before. This year, for the first time ever, it was welcomed onto the main stage to become an integral part of the whole show. It didn’t look out of place.

The pandemic has obviously increased global engagement with health; it’s been centre stage for everyone. But I’d like to think that our graduation to the top table is as much down to the quality of our work as it is to the explosion in public interest. That work – supercharged by advances in data, tech and experience design – has focused on solving problems that matter to patients. And in the process, it’s turned health creative into an art form. Art not just reflecting life, but art changing life.

So what did we learn? Firstly, we saw that Cannes is back, unbruised and unabashed. After two years away, the first in-person festival since 2019 showed that the biggest gathering on the creative marketer’s calendar has lost none of its oomph. This year attracted almost 25K entries from 87 countries, with more than 1,500 in health. The lion’s share (no pun intended) was in Health & Wellness, where the jury dished out seven Golds, 11 Silvers, 19 Bronzes and one Grand Prix. In the Pharma category – where the number of entries (298) fell by over 40% from 2021 – there were two Golds, four Silvers, four Bronzes and one Grand Prix.

The drop in Pharma entries is disappointing but perhaps not surprising. In the past two years, clients have been directed towards outcomes not awards, and it’s hard to argue against it.
It’s possible, of course, to have both; awarded campaigns almost always demonstrate an uptick in positive outcomes. However, a submission to Cannes is an arduous 18-month process that rarely fits comfortably with the final push to get a drug to market. The two time-tracks don’t really coincide – and the race towards launch naturally takes priority.

The net result is writ large in the shortlists and winner profiles; a glut of entries in public health categories but fewer campaigns for pharmaceutical products; a flood of disease awareness or patient communications but a much smaller number for HCPs. This is something we need to reflect on. There’s some brilliant work out there that’s helping clinicians – and, in the process, helping patients too. We need to find a way to get more of that creative in front of the judges at competitions like Cannes.

The innovation we did see this year shows health creative scaling new heights – combining advances in tech and data with a rigid patient focus to create connected experiences that inspire better health. So much work stood out, but here are just four award-winning examples of immersive creative that bridge art and life.


The Pharma Grand Prix went to Dell and Intel’s I Will Always Be Me, a book for people living with motor neurone disease (MND) that ‘banks’ their voices as they read it out loud. The campaign – developed in partnership with Rolls-Royce, the MND Association and VMLY&R New York – focuses on the disease’s cruel tendency to steal patients’ voices. It crafts an incredible solution. The book creates a digital copy of a patient’s voice, banking it so that they can still sound like themselves when their ability to speak normally deteriorates. More than 72% of those recently diagnosed with MND are now using I Will Always Be Me to bank their voice. It’s a brilliant example of connected health – tech, strategy, medicine and patients coming together to create something meaningful that transforms lives.

The Health & Wellness Grand Prix went to Maxx Flash’s ‘The Killer Pack’, biodegradable packaging that kills mosquito larvae when it’s disposed of in garbage dumps – where stagnant water is often a breeding ground for killer water-borne diseases. This human-centred innovation will help reduce cases of diseases like malaria and dengue, which kill hundreds of thousands worldwide every year. That’s life-changing art.

StarMed’s ‘Wilmore Funeral Home’ was one of a number of health-related campaigns that won in non-health categories – this one scooping Gold in Outdoor (transit). In it, the agency hired a van to drive around downtown Charlotte (NY) to raise vaccine awareness among football fans.

A message on the back of the truck read ‘Don’t Get Vaccinated’ – with contact details underneath for ‘Wilmore Funeral Home’. The links lead visitors to a site where they can book their COVID-19 shot – with a message from the fictional funeral home saying: ‘Get vaccinated now.... If not, see you soon.’ Bold, simple and effective – connecting people with routes to better health.

Finally, MACMA’s ‘The Art of Self-Identification’ was another piece that won outside health – picking up Gold in Outdoor (Live Advertising& Events). The heart of the campaign is an interactive exhibition of Rembrandt, Rubens and Raphael masterpieces that invites visitors to touch the art to discover possible symptoms of breast cancer. The paintings – depicting naked women – have been recreated in 3D so that people can palpate the breasts and feel the lumps. It’s stunning, experiential creative; the very definition of art imitating life.

A few years ago, these campaigns – and countless others like them – wouldn’t have been possible. And they almost certainly wouldn’t have been spotlighted at Cannes. Creativity in health has journeyed to another dimension – not just because we’re capitalising on advances in tech and data, but also because there’s a growing emphasis on collaboration to deliver them. Lions Health 2022 only confirmed what we already know: award-winning ideas – the ones that change minds and lives – depend on a multidisciplinary mindset. Strategy, creativity, technology and diversity all converging around a problem and working hand- in-hand to solve it. This year, our industry showed the world we’re more than up to the task. We’re turning health creative into an art form – and changing lives in the process. I can’t wait to see the masterpieces on show in 12 months’ time, with hopefully plenty from pharma.

Claire Gillis is CEO of VMLY&R HEALTH

23rd August 2022

Claire Gillis is CEO of VMLY&R HEALTH

23rd August 2022

From: Marketing


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Bedrock Healthcare Communications

Bedrock Healthcare Communications is an award-winning, independent agency founded in 2011. We partner with healthcare professionals, patients, and global pharmaceutical...