Health care doesn’t like to be the first to do anything,” Frank Mazzola, chief creative officer of 21GRAMs, quipped to a crowded room of his peers, who nodded in agreement. On day two of the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity health sessions, we listened to Mazzola and his client, Suha Patel, marketing principal of Hemophilia at Genentech, talk about some of the learnings from launching their campaign “Challenge Accepted,” a six-episode reality series that used comedy to engage the hemophilia community around some of the key issues they face every day.

Health care (and pharma in particular) is often recognized by the creative community as the undisputed leader of restrictive industries. But since returning home from those two days immersed in speaker sessions and poring over the work, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mazzola’s message and why we all agreed with it—because everything that inspired me in Cannes seemed to suggest otherwise.

There were a few key things I took from the Cannes festival this year that challenge the notion that health care lags far behind other sectors in disruptive creativity:

  1. Patient-centricity is the perfect platform for “creativity with a conscience.”
    Our unique benefit in health is that patient-centricity is often our clients’ north star. Unrestrained by the need to promote a new product (or, frankly, being allowed to) and guided by a people-first purpose, we as communicators have the license to do truly purposeful work that does good.

    I was moved by a powerful anthem video for Merck for Mothers that shines a light on increasing mortality rates associated with childbirth and the need for access to quality maternal health care. And it wasn’t just a buzzy PR campaign. Merck for Mothers has introduced 100 programs in more than 40 countries that are empowering women to receive access to better care, equipping health providers to deliver it and strengthening health systems to support it.
  2. Media-bending is pushing the boundaries of work.
    The campaigns at Cannes proved that patients should no longer be defined by their disease and doctors by their expertise. The work that wins at Cannes is culturally relevant, understands local audience tensions and insights, and shows up in the places where they like to be – at fashion shows, playing video games, in pop culture – and not where we silo them to when we think about their condition or profession.

    This realization invites media-bending creativity like our own campaign for Osteoporosis Canada and Amgen Canada.* In partnership with a prominent Canadian fashion designer, we launched “Bübl Fashion,” a campaign that made osteoporosis a visible condition through a high fashion collection inspired by bubble wrap, the universal symbol for protection, that launched the opening night of Toronto Fashion Week. The work was awarded a Bronze Lion.
  3. The intersection of technology and creativity.
    The uncontested disrupter in the health space is technology. Tech is becoming not only an accelerator to improve clinical pathways, but also a platform to reach patients and health care professionals in a new and disruptive way. We heard from innovators like SUPA, a lifestyle data brand that is “tokenizing the body,” and Level Ex, the start-up behind the acclaimed medical video games that is helping to upskill more than 350,000 medical professionals. You need not look any further than this year’s Grand Prix in Health and Wellness, which was awarded to Ikea and McCann Tel Aviv for “ThisAbles.” The concept was brilliant in its simplicity and execution: a suite of product adaptors, created by a 3D printer in store, which make Ikea’s furniture and goods accessible to people living with disabilities.

    Needless to say, the health space is changing. Whether that manifests as a powerful, multi-channel campaign to rally people around an important issue; taking bubble wrap fashion to the runway to cut through with an important message; or using tech to transform the patient’s pathway, we’re entering an era where our creative industry has the potential to do so many more great things for health care.

Lisa Stone is associate director, Health Brands, London, U.K.

*Edelman client

Cannes Lions