Live from Lions Health: Reputation, innovation, big data and a whole lot of gossip

Outside, flags were flying at Cannes Lions Health, while inside, healthcare agencies and their pharma clients were dissecting campaigns and talking creativity.

CANNES, France—Marketing folks are nothing if not social, so it’s fitting that the Cannes Lions Health festival is one conversation after another after another, and many more of them happening on social media. “I’m in beast mode,” GSW Advertising’s Dave Sonderman said Saturday at the Carlton Terrace as he sent out his latest 140-character comment, and he was far from the only one.

Never more so than on Saturday night when the awards presentation photos blew up Twitter. But it all began 12 hours before in the festival’s kickoff session, when Jeremy Perrott, chief creative officer of McCann Health, interviewed former astronaut and Columbia University professor Mike Massimino—aka Astro Mike—about creative problem-solving in space.

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Meanwhile, in the press room, the morning shifted into a higher gear with the rollout of the Lions short list for the Pharma and Health & Wellness divisions. In years past, the list made its debut on the Friday ahead of the festival kickoff, so this year's attendees were clamoring for the names. In pharma, 59 entries won highlights in 13 different categories. (For post-awards commentary, see day two.)

Pharma jury member Ritesh Patel, chief digital officer of WPP Health & Wellness, said pharma clients should step up and allow their agencies to submit more entries. “I’d say 60% of the work is never seen" because it's not allowed by pharma clients to be shown, he said after the morning’s press conference.

But the good news? Jury President June Laffey said the pharma entries plucked for recognition were right on. “I believe the short list we ended up with is phenomenal,” said Laffey, who’s also executive creative director at McCann Health Australia and Southeast Asia. “That translated into an awards tally that is the right one.” Sonderman, chief creative officer at GSW, agreed.

One of the day’s presentations at the conference’s official epicenter, Palais des Festivals II, set off chatter on social media: a conversation about getting patients to treatment led by AbbVie’s Fiona Oliver. One reason? A clever acronym AbbVie’s been using to describe one of the barriers to diagnosis, FOFO.

Outside in a cabana, Klick Labs’ empathy device for Parkinson’s disease was becoming a popular and powerful stop. The device attaches to the forearm and uses electrical impulses to re-create muscle tremors suffered by a Parkinson’s patient. Klick is now running a study to measure the clinical benefits of empathy and envisioning a range of empathy devices for other diseases that might eventually be used to test treatment effectiveness or diagnose disorders long distance. It’s already at work on an empathy device for COPD patients.

In the Think Tank, a session on brand reputation had audience members throwing out ideas for a whiteboard collection that, in the end, included a sketch of an ostrich with its head in the sand. Led by ImageThink, the discussion moved to “quality influencers.” The gist? Moms are always good. Kim Kardashian, bad.

At the same time, inVentiv Health was hosting an interactive discussion on social centricity. Kathleen Starr, behavioral scientist at inVentiv, and Susan Perlbachs, executive director of inVentiv agency GSW, created decks of cards with 26 specific examples of the various “levers” that influence patient behavior—from family and friends to cultural norms. After high-pointing insights garnered from a two-year study of 30 different patients across the U.S., they asked the audience to browse the 26 examples and determine which would be most effective at changing patient behavior. Perlbachs and Starr plan to publish a summary of the discussion and feedback from other creatives in the industry.  

PhRMA and Young & Rubicam put up some stats that surprised: Thanks to healthier aging, today’s workforce is multigenerational, one-third baby boomer, one-third millennial and one-third generation X. PhRMA’s Robert Zirkelbach quoted Dylan Thomas and screened the association’s latest TV and online spots aimed at rehabbing the industry’s suffering reputation.

Havas Health & You told its audience that three themes—vulnerability, serendipity and exquisite risk—drive healthcare innovation and creativity. They also drive “healthcare heroes,” some inspired and inspiring patients and caregivers who are changing healthcare on the front line. Havas Lynx’s European CEO David Hunt, science-fiction artist Lucy McRae and Zuleika Burnett, executive director of creative and innovation at Havas Life Mediacom, threaded their discussion of those themes with stories about those heroes, including an ambulance driver and former BMX bike racer who created a biking ambulance service in London to cut through traffic and reach injured people more quickly with treatment.

Capping the day's presentations was a Pfizer breakdown of Before it Became a Medicine, the TV commercial that follows a drug from idea to medicine cabinet shelf. Corporate affairs VP Ed Harnaga and Senior Director of Reputation Communications Dana Gandsman laid out their own path from problem—pharma's bad image—to TV spot, and they didn't shy away from the tough details. "People hate pharma but they love science," Harnaga said. Which is why the ad featured science.

As the night’s awards presentation approached, chatter about what went on in the jury room—the “strong discussion” that had pharma judges debating late into the night—and word was that the definition of the pharma division itself took up plenty of time. AbbVie’s Oliver suggested that the jury’s membership wasn’t broad enough.

During the awards, work went from the shortlist wall and computer screen in the Palais II to the Debussy Theatre’s jumbo screen, and if marketing is intended to elicit emotion in an audience, then an awards presentation should, too. Judging by the laughter and tissues, it did. One of the humorous moments? The TV Doctors of America ad for Cigna that picked up a Lion in the Health & Wellness field.

A social moment: Bayer’s HeroSmiths campaign to get aspirin into the pockets and purses of every American picked up honors in the consumer products category. One aspect of the winning effort was a social-media push that had Twitter buzzing about the Smiths in their lives.

Those were both awards in the Health & Wellness division, however. Drugmakers picked up pharma lions, but of the bronze variety, and the jury decided not to award a pharma Grand Prix. The "Immunity Charm" campaign, which racked up an impressive four Gold Lions and four Silver Lions in the pharma category, was ineligible for a Grand Prix there because of its public health focus, so it picked up the Grand Prix for Good instead.

Area 23, which was one of the agencies behind a the winning human-trafficking entry, won agency of the year. The agency picked up short-list status for several GlaxoSmithKline print ads depicting bones carved into the shape of opera singers, with the tagline “Rheumatoid Arthritis patients aren’t being dramatic.”

McCann Health, which picked up a Bronze for Boehringer Ingelheim’s “Split Second” video and a host of Lions—gold, silver and Grand Prix—for Afghanistan’s vaccine-promoting “Immunity Charm” effort, won the healthcare agency network prize.

Afterward, the audience spilled out onto the steps of the Palais, under the looming Snapchat Ferris wheel, stopping for standup interviews along the way. The party went somewhere. FiercePharma went home to write and edit. You’re welcome.

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.