Photo: Clara Bui for Endpoints News

#Can­nes­Lions2022: Phar­ma and health mar­keters lose spot­light at cre­ativ­i­ty ad fest, but does it mat­ter?

Phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ing has long been con­sid­ered sec­ond-tier when com­pared to the rest of the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try. And there are some le­git­i­mate rea­sons why. Nike sneak­ers and Co­ca-Co­la so­da ads will like­ly al­ways be more en­ter­tain­ing or ex­cit­ing than reg­u­lat­ed cam­paigns for di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

Still, the Cannes Li­ons ad­ver­tis­ing fes­ti­val of cre­ativ­i­ty was phar­ma and health­care ad­ver­tis­ing’s an­nu­al chance to shine. For the past eight years, phar­ma agen­cies and clients stood side by side with con­sumer com­pa­nies and agency hot­shots on the biggest ad­ver­tis­ing award stage in the world at the Palais in Cannes, France.

How­ev­er, some­thing changed this year. While the awards for phar­ma and health and well­ness were hand­ed out to wide­spread ap­plause on the first night of the show, for much of the rest of the time, health­care mar­ket­ing was rel­e­gat­ed to the back of the room and most­ly off the main stages.

The phar­ma and health and well­ness cat­e­go­ry award fi­nal­ists, for in­stance, were tucked in the back cor­ner of the base­ment of the main build­ing. Even peo­ple who want­ed to see the work com­plained that they had to search for them. On­ly three Cannes Li­ons of­fi­cial ses­sions this year cov­ered health or phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ing top­ics and were most­ly gen­er­al top­ics about cre­ativ­i­ty, di­ver­si­ty or em­pa­thy.

There were no phar­ma and health case study dis­sec­tions or deep dives in­to the unique chal­lenges in health and phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ing — and, maybe more im­por­tant­ly for the in­dus­try, there were no phar­ma ex­ec­u­tives on the Cannes stages as they have been in the past. Pa­tri­cia Cor­si was the lone phar­ma-con­nect­ed ex­ec­u­tive; she is the chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer of Bay­er Con­sumer Health and served as both a speak­er and health and well­ness ju­ry pres­i­dent.

Pa­tri­cia Cor­si speaks on a judge’s pan­el (Clara Bui/End­points News)

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Even among this year’s health and well­ness award win­ners, no gold prizes went to phar­ma com­pa­nies. Un­ex­pect­ed win­ners like Heineken and Harley David­son did, how­ev­er, take home the gold for their re­spec­tive vac­ci­na­tion and “Tough Tur­ban” cam­paigns.

There are two schools of thought about the dis­ap­pear­ance of Cannes Li­ons Health as an of­fi­cial pro­grammed track. On one hand, it sig­ni­fies the par­i­ty of the in­dus­try with big con­sumer brands, but on the oth­er hand, it al­so meant few­er con­ver­sa­tions, less net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and an over­all dim­ming of the in­dus­tries’ pres­ences at Cannes Li­ons.

Rich Levy

“I would be ly­ing if I didn’t say that I was dis­ap­point­ed so far,” said Rich Levy, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of Klick Health on the first day of the show. “When you’re talk­ing about a multi­bil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try in the US, I thought that 31 short list for phar­ma was re­mark­ably small … I don’t think it’s an ac­cu­rate view of the work that the in­dus­try is do­ing.”

Phar­ma and health and well­ness en­tries both were way down this year. To­tal phar­ma en­tries dropped to 298, down from 509 last year with 11 to­tal Li­on awards giv­en out. In health and well­ness, there were 1,213 en­tries, down from 1,300 last year. There were Grand Prix awards giv­en in both cat­e­gories, but this was the first year it was re­quired — in the past, judges could pass over a cat­e­go­ry for the top award if they thought it didn’t rise to the lev­el of Grand Prix.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the Grand Prix in the phar­ma cat­e­go­ry went to a non-phar­ma com­pa­ny. Dell Tech­nolo­gies and In­tel snagged the top prize for their voice app for peo­ple with mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease. The en­try — cre­at­ed by VM­LY&R New York and called “I Will Al­ways Be Me” — helps peo­ple with MND bank a dig­i­tal copy of their voice by read­ing a sto­ry book.

In the health and well­ness cat­e­go­ry, Maxx Flash’s mos­qui­to re­pel­lent cam­paign “The Killer Pack” took the top prize. The re­pel­lent is de­signed to ad­dress In­dia’s mos­qui­to prob­lem, with a biodegrad­able pack­ag­ing that kills mos­qui­toes out­side while a non­tox­ic coil fights them in­side.

Oth­er health cre­atives and ex­ec­u­tives agreed with Levy’s award as­sess­ment, but al­so ex­pressed con­cern about the lim­it­ed health con­tent. The health and phar­ma pan­els and award deep dives that were pre­sent­ed got sol­id re­views, but there were scant few in the of­fi­cial pro­gram, along with a hand­ful of un­of­fi­cial ones out­side the main venues.

Sev­er­al health agency net­works set up off-site slates of health­care and phar­ma pro­gram­ming — WPP Health and IPG Health both of­fered mul­ti­ple pan­els and dis­cus­sions at their own sites. CMI Me­dia Group host­ed a pan­el at the Pan­do­ra Beach pavil­ion on au­dio brand­ing, while oth­er agency cre­atives like Levy and Bernar­do Romero, along with Ogilvy Health’s Adam Hes­sel and both pan­els of judges for phar­ma and health and well­ness, at­tend­ed ses­sions and net­worked with oth­ers in the health com­mu­ni­ty.

Still, there just weren’t as many health and phar­ma peo­ple on the ground as there typ­i­cal­ly have been in the past as agen­cies cut back ros­ters of at­ten­dees and didn’t in­vite as many clients. That’s like­ly in part due to the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic re­cov­ery year of Cannes Li­ons this year as well as bud­get con­sid­er­a­tions in gen­er­al.

Dana Maiman

Dana Maiman, CEO of IPG Health and a long-time Cannes Li­ons at­tendee said, “I’m hop­ing the changes hon­est­ly are just tem­po­rary. Be­cause I re­mem­ber when I first start­ed com­ing here — I think this may be my 10th one or so — but back then it was con­sol­i­dat­ed. It was re­al­ly lib­er­at­ing when it was fo­cused and bro­ken out, even though clear­ly there’s a lot of crossovers and all of that. But I think there is some­thing very spe­cial about cel­e­brat­ing the cre­ativ­i­ty in our world be­cause we can all agree it is more chal­leng­ing.”

Hes­sel, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Ogilvy Health, said one rea­son for few­er en­tries was heav­ier cu­ra­tion down to just a few this year, but added that no mat­ter the num­bers, Cannes and oth­er mar­ket­ing award shows still are im­por­tant for the in­dus­try.

“Just cel­e­brat­ing great work in any cat­e­go­ry is what the in­dus­try re­al­ly needs and al­so maybe to pull back a bit — every­body’s look­ing for that one crown jew­el, but there’s so much great work out there that should be cel­e­brat­ed,” he said, adding, “When clients see great work, they want that too, so that’s the bar.”

Cor­si, mean­while, said she wants to see more cre­ativ­i­ty from phar­ma mar­keters. She finds that cre­atives in the phar­ma in­dus­try are of­ten trained to be more con­ser­v­a­tive, be­cause if you cross the line, you face reg­u­la­tors — but she would like that to change.

“We re­al­ly be­lieve that there is a great op­por­tu­ni­ty for us to raise the bar in this cat­e­go­ry,” she said. “Work in health and well­ness con­sis­tent­ly across the years has not been the most in­spir­ing.”

That doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean the work should be more com­pli­cat­ed. Ac­cord­ing to Cor­si, some­times the sim­plest idea is the best. What she wants to see, though, is more out­side-the-box think­ing.

A hand­ful of ex­ecs, in­clud­ing Cor­si, not­ed that the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic has served as a wake-up call for phar­ma com­pa­nies dis­cov­er­ing what their role should be with pa­tients. Phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ing is be­com­ing more of a con­ver­sa­tion as op­posed to a one-off en­counter, Cor­si said. Even com­pa­nies like Wal­greens — which fa­cil­i­tat­ed the vac­ci­na­tion of more than 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans — are tak­ing a new ap­proach to ad­ver­tis­ing.

Mel Routhi­er

“The pan­dem­ic, there’s no go­ing back. You can’t un­hear the bell, right? The bell’s been rung,” said Mel Routhi­er, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of the WPP Wal­greens team. “It’s a good thing for us to take stock and say we can have more pur­pose as a brand.”

One thing that hasn’t changed this year? The lev­el of pas­sion that phar­ma cre­atives are bring­ing to the con­fer­ence.

Gena Pem­ber­ton

“What I’m tak­ing away now, that I guess maybe I didn’t re­al­ly ex­pect, is how much pas­sion peo­ple have in the work that they’re do­ing,” said first-time at­tendee Gena Pem­ber­ton, Om­ni­com Health Group’s chief di­ver­si­ty, eq­ui­ty and in­clu­sion of­fi­cer. “[It’s] re­al­ly im­pact­ful to be able to talk with peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ar­eas, un­der­stand a lit­tle bit more about the work they’ve done, and just see­ing how ex­cit­ed every­body is to be to­geth­er again.”

In the end, the ques­tions re­main. Does Cannes Li­ons need a sep­a­rate phar­ma and health track? Or vice ver­sa, does phar­ma and health­care ad­ver­tis­ing need that spot­light at Cannes? The de­bate won’t be eas­i­ly set­tled.

Franklin Williams, di­rec­tor of ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign at Area 23 and a phar­ma judge, said, “It doesn’t re­al­ly mat­ter who’s do­ing the work as long as the tar­gets are be­ing hit. So I think that’s what you’re start­ing to see al­most as a trend and a theme. It doesn’t have to be, we did phar­ma be­cause we’re phar­ma. We did phar­ma be­cause we want­ed to do good.”

The dan­ger, of course, is that with­out broad­er in­clu­sion, spe­cif­ic con­tent and more awards, phar­ma may lose in­ter­est in Cannes.

“It be­comes a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. And what I mean by that is few­er win­ners every year mean few­er en­tries the fol­low­ing year. And few­er en­tries mean few­er win­ners,” Levy said.

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