Cannes Lions

Tech Company Takes Top Prize in Cannes Pharma Category as Health Sees New Entrants

'We Had Tech Companies, Supermarkets and Software Hacks, and Even a Yogurt Campaign,' Said Jury President Joshua Prince

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From the Philips Healthcare campaign spot
From the Philips Healthcare campaign spot Credit: Koninklijke Philips N.V.

Ogilvy & Mather London's "Breathless Choir" for Philips won the grand prix in the pharmaceutical category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Saturday, as Lions Health kicked off a big week for advertising with wins for U.K. shops and non-traditional marketer entrants.

FCB Inferno London's "Project Literacy" for Pearson took the top prize in the health and wellness category.

"The industry is really coming into its own in terms of a new era of marketing," said Alexandra von Plato, president for Publicis Healthcare Communications in North America and jury president for the pharma category. "Cannes is a big part of challenging this industry to rise to new occasions in creativity."

In Lions Health's third year as part of the festival, jury presidents described work from new players that brought a fresh perspective to the conservative healthcare industry, as seen in the pharma victory by electronics and technology company Philips and interest in health and wellness from a more diverse group of companies and industries.

"There are many different and unexpected brands and categories entering into healthcare that are really trying to accelerate their brand or their issues through the power of healthcare," said Joshua Prince, CMO of Omnicom Health Group in the U.S. and jury president for the health and wellness category. That meant judging work from a range of companies, including technology, packaged goods, supermarket and insurance, he said.


"Breathless Choir," from Ogilvy London and its client Philips, tells the story of a group of people whose breathing disabilities had gotten in the way of their love of singing. Philips and its agency chronicled their journey to learn new techniques to save breath while singing, and ultimately perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The campaign was part of an effort to promote a medical device called SmiplyGo Mini.

The jury looked at work that "used a full pallet of marketing communications to create the kind of engagement that maybe some other brands use more fluidly," said Ms. Von Plato. "It demonstrates to all healthcare marketers that you can do this kind of narrative storytelling. You can expand the arc, create emotional content and have a very relevant and powerful connection to real substantial healthcare issues, disease conditions and products. We felt 'Breathless Choir' from Philips, an up-and-coming healthcare company, which is now entering healthcare hot and heavily in the devices space, is showing the rest of healthcare what's possible through a fresh lens."

For pharma, it's one more example of a winner with an advocacy and broad awareness component, but that doesn't necessarily mean a piece of work only wins when it contains those elements, said Ms. Von Plato. "I do think things could win without that, but when we have the opportunity to engage people in things they care about, advocacy is a very powerful way to do that," she said. "Marketers who figure out who to connect to advocacy get that additional lift from an audience working on behalf of a brand in an authentic way."

Through "Project Literacy," educational giant Pearson and its agency FCB Inferno sought to raise awareness of global illiteracy by highlighting its role in perpetuating global health issues. The effort was a new version of the ABC's song and disturbing animation, through which each letter of the alphabet is used to introduce a different way in which illiteracy can be harmful -- A is for AIDS, B for Bloodshed, C for Child Brides, and so forth. The campaign, which included videos that offered a glimpse into how individuals are affected by these issues, spread through interactive social content and partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

The effort led to a petition to get on the UN agenda to help save lives, and ultimately an invitation to join Unesco's global alliance for literacy.

"We had tech companies, supermarkets and software hacks, and even a yogurt campaign. It was a really diverse group of work, but one piece stood out above everything else for the grand prix," said Mr. Prince. "It was an incredible and engaging and powerful and important piece of work."

It was a "rich way to take an already exceptional idea and elevate that idea and the people involved," he added.

Two years ago, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity introduced the two-day Health Lions event and award show meant to evaluate work in two categories: pharma and health and wellness.

In its first year, pharma disappointed, with no top prize, and the U.S., despite its disproportionate number of entries compared to other countries, had a poor showing on the shortlists of winners. Last year, there was not only a pharma winner, but it was from the U.S., indicating progress for a nation that struggles with one of the strictest regulatory environments for drug ads.

In its third year, "[pharma] is really in its toddler year, but I feel like we worked really hard to recognize a wide variety of work that was exquisite in craft and embraced humanity at its core," said Ms. Von Plato. She saw new use of technology to solve problems and great design and creative solutions, leading the jury to dole out 58 pharma awards -- more than in previous years.

Submissions for health and wellness grew from 1,430 to 2,023, including 450 from the U.S., followed by Brazil and the U.K. In the pharma category, there were 582 entries, up from 432 in 2014 and 517 in 2014. The U.S. once again submitted the bulk of the work, with 249 entries, followed by the U.K. with 132.

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