Lions Health versus mainstream Lions: are they really different breeds?

By Rachel McCready, Klick Health; Creative Strategist 

Having just wrapped its fourth year, the Cannes Lions Health competition is still finding its identity. With the ever-expanding definition of health in play, category-specific is competing with a broadening class of work. 

Lions Health weekend was abuzz with questions about  whether the Health category actually warranted a separate show in a program like the Lions. 

Why separate streams?
Of course, many advertising shows put health & pharma in a separate stream, and with good reason; although it’s easy to imagine being a member of most mainstream products’ target audiences, health tends to be very niche. The nuances of a specific health condition, and what it’s like to either have it or treat it, can require too much explanation for the uninitiated. 

Specialized juries with expertise in health communications – the diseases, treatments, audiences, and regulatory restrictions – make sense, and assessing health work in a separate stream can level the playing field to let the strongest work in the class emerge. 

The Lions: a different beast
But the Lions really aren’t like other advertising award shows. In fact, they’re not about advertising at all. 

Whether it’s health or mainstream content presented at the Lions, selling isn’t the point. As we heard from the juries, the hunt is for creative solutions to solve human problems, which often moves the winners well outside of the territory we work in every day. 

Beautiful, touching, powerful initiatives -- yet no branded work medalled in the Pharma category this year. No Grand Prix winner emerged in that category, either (because the top work didn’t qualify for the category’s top prize).

In fact, many winners in at Lions Health weren’t exclusive to the Health show at all.

Consider Meet Graham – a Grand Prix winner at Lions Health and in the mainstream show. The stunningly executed “awareness sculpture” created by Clemenger BBDO Melbourne on behalf of the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria, is tangentially related to health, but also to those outside of the health space,  educating, as he does, on the importance of safe driving. 

And Immunity Charm.  McCann Health New Delhi’s immunization tracking bracelet that took Lions Health’s Grand Prix “for Good” award, was well-decorated in mainstream categories. In fact, the jury acknowledged that it was the strength of Immunity Charm that in part suppressed the emergence of a Grand Prix winner in the Pharma category. As Immunity Charm competed in the category but didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix, the jury felt that work that didn’t surpass it couldn’t justifiably be awarded the Grand Prix. 

What qualifies as a health product? Does a razor count? (Congrats, by the way, Gillette – your Handle With Care piece was devastating.) Well, kind of… but not exclusively, as evidenced by Gillette & Grey’s wins in both the Health and mainstream shows.

Consider the Thai “fat-blocking” supplement, Chitosan. Another charming crossover winner, and a rare example of an actual product ad, not to mention a humor-driven one. McCann Bangkok’s odd little film was an inspiration for creatives in any vertical, and absolutely would hold its own in any general-interest show. 

Can pharma win at its own show?
With so much crossover, does Health warrant a separate show? Is the breadth of the field motivating, or does it make it impossible for challenging categories like pharma to win at its own show?

The pros of this approach are that health work is important, recognized as a unique class, and best evaluated by expert peers. A health-focused show allows work to be properly evaluated and the best of the division to shine.

If the categories and selection process are structured to help the best work in this challenging category emerge, and create a new bar for creators to aim for, a Health show could prove very motivating – and have a direct effect on how work is done in this category. 

The separation could allow a Health Lion to become a realistic and relatable goal – even for branded pharma work – and have an even more powerful effect on elevating the craft to new levels. 

Competing against the “healthification of everything”
But if the show effectively puts a lowercase “h” on health, inviting all comers and reinforcing the “healthification of everything” trend seen in recent years, then it’s no different from submitting health work to the mainstream show, which is an option open to all of us anyway.

Wherefore art thou, Lion?
So what, then, is the value of a Lion to the health-focused creative community? Should Health be a separate show, or simply a category in the mainstream show? Are categories discrete and clear enough to do their job of having like compete against like, and motivating great work in health?

What structure would make Cannes Lions most motivating and meaningful to you?



Klick Health is the world's largest independent full-service health marketing and commercialization agency, laser-focused on creating solutions that engage and educate healthcare providers on life-saving treatments. Every solution hinges on Klick's in-house expertise across the commercial universe—strategy, branding, creative, analytics, instructional design, user experience, relationship marketing, social and mobile.
Established in 1997, Klick has teams in Atlanta, Connecticut, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Toronto. In 2016, Klick received a Cannes Lions Health award and was named MM&M's Large Agency of the Year. For more information, visit klick.com. Follow us on Twitter: @KlickHealth.

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