Lions Health, Day 1: Shiny statuettes, heart-tugging creative and opinions galore

.lions health
Pharma marketers browsed the shortlisted work at booths, ending with the main-stage awards show Monday night. (Beth Snyder Bulik)

CANNES, France—The marketing world comes to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the inspiration on offer in official sessions and award shows, but trading opinions is part of the parcel. And whether on the Palais des Festivals terrace, along Cabana Town or in nearby cafés, one topic comes up again and again this year: The Lions Health move from the weekend ahead to smack atop the weeklong festival’s first two days.

Yea, nay or indifferent, those days are here, and as thousands picked up their badges and poured through security checkpoints into the Palais des Festivals, FiercePharma caught up with pharma marketers and agency leaders, and then followed them into the night as they picked up their Lions awards and celebrated.

At the Majestic Barriere ahead of the kickoff, marketing guru and futurist Faith Popcorn was handing out ‘zines to promote her presentation about men in the #MeToo era, “The Future of Masculinity.” And she had some tough words for drugmakers. “The only people who aren’t going to understand the future are pharma companies,” she contended, saying the industry doesn’t grasp how to harness the power of social networks, lags in using technology to help patients and is “way behind” others when it comes to understanding women, their motivations and their needs. Women are in charge of healthcare decisions in their households, Popcorn pointed out, but “nobody talks to them and understands them.”

Meanwhile, prepping for their Lions Festival at the Hotel Martinez were Ogilvy CommonHealth North America CEO Andrew Schirmer and creative director Brenda Molloy. A Lions Health vet, Schirmer was on hand partly to hunt out creative talent mixing with the healthcare crowd at Cannes for the first time. Though they talked about pilot campaigns, measuring ad responses before going national, and the new ease of bringing in name directors to film pharma spots, they also noted the surge in oncology marketing of late—as evidenced by the several cancer-focused sessions on the Health Lions agenda.

Schirmer was excited, too, about the promise of digital devices and tools to turn pharma companies into more than medicine-makers—and to measure the effectiveness of marketing tools, too. He’d recently tested a 20-sensor cap that measures brain activity, used to test the first cut of a movie, for instance. With pharma marketers looking toward “radical human empathy,” as he put it, using devices and behavioral metrics to see how people respond to campaigns could make DTC work more effective. But beyond that was the notion of healthcare on everyone’s smartphone, tracking each patients’ health in a very deep way and melding digital aids and medications to make treatment more effective. “Pharma has to get involved in the broader play,” he said, citing AI, devices and wearables as ways marketers can help drugmakers improve patient care. “It’s less about messages and more about utility.”

GSK Consumer: Fusing data with empathy

The first featured session on the first day is a tough slot, as GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health’s Carlton Lawson pointed out in kicking off that very session, but a case study on “digital transformation” for this crowd was hard to resist. With a new chief digital officer, Marc Speichert, on hand to talk about the nuts-and-bolts of moving Team GSK toward “marketing in a digital world” rather than “digital marketing,” Lawson focused on the switch in marketing focus that’s following in tandem. GSK’s tapping data for insights into the customer’s journey from thinking they might need a product to actually buying it, and targeting the moments that matter most. And with the help of a newly expanded Google partnership, it’s built patient personas they can use to get the right messages to the right people at the right time.

Beyond that, however, is a more thematic switch, from efficacy—focusing on data and science—to trust and empathy. One example of that? A moving campaign for Horlicks, the nutritional drinks brand. The company sent a group of mothers to visit their children cramming in Kota, Rajahstan, for the competitive exams that determine university admissions. The company put together a film (see below) about that trip—and the exam stress that can trigger test phobias and even suicide—that brings Horlicks into scenes of mothers caring for their children when they’re under pressure to perform well on these high-stakes tests. As the audience dried a few tears, Lawson said, “It’s the only ad that made [Glaxo CEO] Emma Walmsley cry.”

Pfizer Oncology: Tears and kudos for patient-story documentary

There was not a dry eye in the audience after Pfizer Oncology’s documentary presentation created as part of its “This is Living With Cancer” campaign. Savitri Basavaiah, oncology portfolio marketing team leader at Pfizer, and Dina Peck, creative director at its ad agency Patients & Purpose chatted for a few minutes about the strategy and thinking behind the program, but the centerpiece of the session was a moving 22-minute black-and-white documentary that followed five patients with different types of cancer over four months.

RELATED: Want to hear pharma speak candidly—and publicly—about marketing? Go to Lions Health

The inside stories of the men and women—artist, surfer, jazz pianist, comedian, and even oncology nurse—and their feelings and hopes and dreams is the encapsulation of what “Living With” cancer means.

When the film ended, Basavaiah said, “It doesn’t get easier no matter how many times we watch it. Because that’s what it really is about to get to really know your patients. They’re not patients, they’re people living with cancer.”

Merck KGaA: Catchy term, undeniable results

Merck’s quest to rev up its consumer health brands got a name four years ago—Lovebrands—and folks were quoting its principles in Cabana Town Monday afternoon. Attila Cansun, CMO of Merck Consumer Health, ticked off the high points in an interview afterward. One, hook into people’s aspirations and help them feel they can grow out of themselves. Two, communicate with emotion by tapping customer insights—for instance, that men tend to whine more when they get a cold or flu than women do, a notion Merck used in a multicountry campaign for Nasivin, a nasal decongestant. Three, incite love at first sight—in this case, with packaging that consumers can’t resist.

Using Lovebrands on three of Merck’s brands grew sales 30% to 60% over two to three years, Cansun said. “We’re not talking about incrementality. The Lovebrands approach was an absolute breakthrough for us.” Perhaps the kind of breakthrough that inspires a buyout, given Procter & Gamble just agreed to snap up the unit for $4.2 billion.

Lilly: Getting real in cancer marketing

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That was the message from Lilly Oncology and its ad agency Area 23 as it laid out its strategy and its branded promotions for cancer drugs Lartruvo and Cyramza. Amy Meadows, senior advisor in consumer marketing oncology at Lilly, said empowering the patient to play an active role in their cancer treatment decisions can be tough. But with the stakes so high, it’s important to tackle it head on.

The work Lilly showed—some of it conceptual, some of it in market—for Cyramza and Lartruvo walked that walk. The work for Lartruvo, a treatment for the rare and aggressive cancer soft tissue sarcoma (STS), uses the forceful phrase “Get Up” to urge patients to push themselves to do a very difficult thing: Get out of bed every morning. Launching for the first time at Cannes, Lilly and Area 23 showed an alarm clock pre-programmed by a user’s loved ones to project photos and messages onto the ceiling to inspire STS patients to “get up.”

Eli Lilly
(Area 23/Eli Lilly)

For Cyramza, print ads (above) showed people dancing in a kitchen while in the background a grand orchestra and formally attired people danced. Another featured a grandfather playing mini basketball indoors with his grandson while in the background a stadium full of cheering fans wave banners and cheers wildly. The insight? When metastatic patients were asked to talk about their big moments, they told Lilly that it is the everyday ones they’re living right now.

Meadows, who like the audience teared up several times while watching patient-story videos and talking about Lilly interactions, outlined her Cannes mission through the perspective she has developed. She said, “I’m here for the purpose. I started (the session) talking about empowering the voices of people living with cancer and that’s something we’re just starting to do at Lilly. So it is about the audience at the festival, this is an international festival … and can we spread this mission?”

Musings from the judges' table

Collette Douaihy, executive creative director at Digitas Health and a Health & Wellness juror, spent the past week locked away with fellow jurors looking at more than 1,400 entries in the subcategory. Although she praised the enriching experience and the camaraderie of the team, she was anxious to go out and look at even more work. Pharma ads, that is—with an eye toward lessons to take back to Digitas and possible entries for next year.

“The showing of big pharmaceutical companies was amazing. I think the companies highlighted on the shortlist do amazing work. I can’t wait to get to the floor and see all of that stuff—that’s what I take back. But I also want to take a critical eye to the pharma work and see where the bar has been set,” she said.