At Cannes Lions Health, pharma again falls short of Grand Prix standard

Roche, Merck & Co. and Boehringer Ingelheim picked up Bronze Lions at Saturday's Cannes Lions Health awards.

CANNES, France—And the Cannes Lions Health pharma Grand Prix award goes to … no one. For the second time in the four years of the pharma global creative awards, the jury declined to give out a top prize.

The reason? The most outstanding work entered in the pharma category—McCann Health, New Delhi’s work for the Afghanistan Ministry of Health on a campaign to foster vaccinations—was a public health campaign that didn’t fit the jury’s requirements for a pharma Grand Prix.

Beyond that campaign, which picked up four Gold Lions and four Silvers, no other entry hit the Grand Prix level.

“We couldn’t award a Grand Prix, the others were nowhere near as strong as this piece of work,” said June Laffey, pharma jury president and executive creative director at McCann Health Australia and Southeast Asia. “We wanted to make sure we sent out the right signals about what is possible and what can be possible in the future in this highly regulated space.”

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Only three drugmakers’ campaigns picked up Pharma Lions, all Bronze, while two drugmakers won in the consumer product category in the Health & Wellness Lions awards.

When asked why more traditional pharma work wasn’t recognized, jury member Ritesh Patel, chief digital officer at WPP Health & Wellness, said part of the problem is the lack of pharma work submitted. Agencies are sometimes forbidden by clients to enter work into the show, he and other jurors noted after the press conference announcing the winners.

“Some clients just won’t allow it. The industry needs to step up a bit, and brand marketers need to step up, and allow us to share the good work,” Patel said. “I’d say 60% of the work is never seen and not allowed to be shown. It just doesn’t do any of us in the industry any good.”

Fellow jurors nodded in agreement. Susanne Blom, creative director at Lindh & Partners in Sweden, added, “It’s not representative of what everyone’s doing because there is a lot of great work out there that we’re not seeing. And that’s a pity.”

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The Afghan campaign, called “Immunity Charm,” used the simple concept of a handmade bracelet that combined the cultural tradition of wearing beads to ward off evil spirits with colored beads that track a child’s immunization record. Along with its pharma category awards, the campaign nabbed the Grand Prix for Good.

Only two other Gold Lions were awarded in the pharma category. One went to an antitrafficking campaign by Area23 New York, designed to enlist doctors to help identify victims; details weren’t disclosed to protect the program’s ongoing viability. The second went to the Virtual Reality Vaccine campaign for Hermes Pardini, in which Ogilvy Brasil created an animated VR experience to ease kids’ anxiety and pain at vaccination time.

U.S. companies took home two Silver Lions and five Bronze Lions in the pharma category. The other silver U.S. award went to a Northwell Health public relations campaign by J. Walter Thompson New York called “The Fin,” built on the creation of prosthetic limbs that could be used for swimming.

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Bronze winners included Boehringer Ingelheim’s “Split Second,” an unbranded campaign supporting Pradaxa, and Merck’s “Push” effort as part of its ongoing Merck for Mothers campaign.

In the Health & Wellness Lions Health category, pharma companies Johnson & Johnson and Bayer won Silver Lions for OTC product campaigns. J&J’s winner was One Breath for Nicorette from AMV/BBDO, London, and Bayer Consumer Health’s was its Aspirin “Herosmiths” campaign from Energy BBDO, Chicago, to encourage people to carry aspirin to aid possible heart attack victims.

For the second year in a row, McCann Health was named healthcare network of the year, while Area 23 was named healthcare agency of the year.

This year's Cannes Lions Health coverage is brought to you by Klick Health. All editorial content is written and produced independently of our sponsor.