Inside the Cannes Lions Health Jury room with Graham Mills, Global Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Health

There were 580 entries into this year’s Pharma category at Cannes Lions Health.  That’s 580 case films accompanied by a slow, heart-wrenching solo piano track that begins with a few spare notes and builds to an optimistic outcome.

Of course, with judging lasting five days, you quickly tire of the ivories being tickled.  This matters, because the way to win is to stand out, to be memorable, to separate from the pack.  Looking and sounding the same as everything else is something that tripped up a lot of entries this year.  Of course you need a great idea, but the craft of storytelling within the case study is just as important.  Without it your great campaign will fade into the background.

Another important distinction is whether the work is Pharma or Health.  Unlike most shows, the Cannes Health Festival separates the two, and with good reason. Without the Pharma category there would be no need to have any Health Lions – the work in Health & Wellness could easily just become part of the main show.  Indeed, only two the 80 agencies awarded in Health & Wellness were specialist health agencies. This gives the Pharma Lions a real significance.

With this in mind, the jury gave itself a purpose.  We set out to “protect Pharma.”  This meant recognizing the work that was true to the category.  We decided that this meant communications for medicines, products, devices and treatments that required interaction with a healthcare professional; they had to live in a regulated environment and be an agency solution to a client/brand problem.

This purpose made judging easier, and the shortlist shorter.  In fact we ended with a much shorter list than previous years.

What was also interesting was the nature of the work submitted.  Only a few branded campaigns were entered, in fact there was very little traditional advertising at all.

And that is where the real difference between the Health & Wellness and Pharma categories really showed up. Watching the Gala on Saturday night, the two categories stood in stark contrast.  Health & Wellness was almost exclusively advertising in all of its forms – and there was some beautiful work in there.  Pharma was a celebration of health experiences.  It highlighted really exciting and breakthrough ideas for new products, devices and treatments that transform what health feels like.

In some ways this year’s Cannes Lions Health threw a spotlight on what is already happening in our world.  Agencies are shifting and transforming to deliver new kinds of work and health solutions.  Yes, the majority of work is still advertising, but then there are the new ideas – the partnerships, use of technology and health hacks.

Next year I expect this difference to be even more palpable.  So, if you want to win a Health & Wellness Lion, do great advertising.  If you want to win in the Pharma category, look for the new ideas that transform how we enable health.


This article originally appeared on PharmaLive