Shorted shortlist? Fewer pharmas make the cut for Lions Health finals

Lions Health
Cannes Lions Health released its pharma awards shortlist Sunday, starting a countdown to Monday night's awards ceremony. (Staton)

CANNES, France—The Cannes Pharma Lions shortlist for 2019 lives up to its name. Just 31 entries cleared the finalist bar this year, down from 53 last year.

But it’s still good news for the 12 multinational pharma companies in the running for the coveted awards: GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Viiv Healthcare, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Merck & Co., Synergy Pharma, Abbott, Amgen, Sanofi and Regeneron.

GSK alone notched four finalist slots for its “Breath of Life” campaign in China for COPD awareness. The campaign centered on an app that could calculate lung capacity from one exhale into a smartphone—and convert that calculation into a personalized Chinese blow painting of a tree. If the results came in lower than 70%, the app suggested a doctor’s visit.

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Another multiple category nominee was the "One Word" campaign from digital therapeutics company Learning Corp, designed to help stroke patients recover; it won five finalist slots. Bayer picked up two shortlist nods for its "SmartRead" campaign for people with macular disorders that affect their vision.

One surprise: Eli Lilly’s Latruvo work made the list, even though the drug was pulled from the market at the end of April after a failed phase 3 trial. Lilly stopped promoting Lartruvo in January, after the campaign ran last year. The Lartruvo concept—a custom alarm clock for soft tissue sarcoma patients—debuted at Cannes last year. The clock used inspirational messages from a patient's loved ones to help them summon the energy to tackle their day.

The shorter finalist list may in part reflect the fewer works entered the pharma category this year, which was down to 376 submissions from last year's 363.

The big question, though: Will there be a Grand Prix award in pharma this year? That’s for Monday night's big reveal, but it’s certainly not a given. No Grand Prix has been awarded in pharma for the past three years.

“To break through, it’s got to be a big idea. It has to be very 360, and each component has to be strong," said veteran pharma judge Rich Levy, who recently became chief creative at Klick Health after 10 years at FCB. "When you watch hundreds of case films one right after another, if any part of a case film falls apart on an integrated campaign, the whole thing falls down."

This year Levy is just another attendee at Lions Health, but he knows firsthand the tough decisions underway at the Palais as the pharma jury culls through the hundreds of entries. And he understands the expectations Grand Prix entries must meet.

“I know that when we were debating last year, I knew I had to stand up on stage and say ‘this is the best the industry has to offer.’ And I was unwilling to do that for work that wasn’t something people would look at and say ‘That’s what I aspire to do,’ ” Levy said.

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In Lions Health's other major category, Health & Wellness, the shortlist encompassed 120 finalists, including entries from Johnson & Johnson, GSK and Pfizer’s Wyeth.

J&J’s shortlist nod was for the sponsored film “5B,” which snared two spots for corporate image and communications. The movie centers on the nurses who founded and opened the first AIDS ward in 1983 at San Francisco General Hospital called Ward 5B. GSK also snared two spots for its “Pain is Drama” opera-scored campaign for OTC med Voltaren.