“Taking Metal” at Cannes: A View From the Jury Room

Attending the Cannes International Festival of Creativity is an intense experience, even more so from behind the closed doors of the jury room, as I learned firsthand this year. With more than 600 Lions Health entries to judge for Pharma across dozens of categories, narrowing these down to the best of the best was in turns inspiring, eye-opening, envy-inducing and exhausting.

The Pharma jury’s focus on selecting the best work was not based just on rewarding amazing ideas, but also took into consideration the signal being sent to the industry—highlighting work we thought was possible, worthy of emulation and demonstrating life-changing creativity. Here are some takeaways for those looking to build winning submissions in 2018 (to see the work mentioned in each section, visit the Cannes Lions site and register for free.):

  • It is all about the idea. A good idea can override executional limitations and/or imprecise results reporting. Campaigns with a single event, or just nine patients, that brought an idea to life sparked discussion among judges as animated as ideas that drove national dialogue or that had significantly bigger budgets to drive more robust execution. (Check out the Immunity Charm or Talking Hands Therapy).
  • Make something. The best examples of this are outside of pharma, in the widely celebrated Meet Graham and Fearless Girl campaignsLeading agencies at Cannes are approaching client problems with experiential solutions, paring smart communications with new product development, prototypes and application of technology. (See Northwell Health: The Fin).
  • Use technology appropriately. Don’t use technology like VR or 3D printing for technology’s sake, but to deliver more than communications to support a client’s objectives. (See VR Vaccine for smart use of VR and Northwell Health’s The Fin for a noteworthy 3D prototype).
  • Deconstruct campaigns. While you can enter an entire campaign, sometimes a winning idea is clear from just one element, and sometimes a single execution deserves an award. Communications marketing campaigns go so much further than traditional PR—consider entering for categories like events/experiential, data visualization, online video, direct/promo and activation. (See Shire’s* eyelove or BI’s Split Second).
  • Multiple entries can be smart. The “Pharma” and “Health and Wellness” juries are two separate groups—so those with campaigns that straddle both may consider dual submissions. It’s also fine to submit work for multiple awards within each category, though important to tailor each submission for the different categories you choose. (Multi-faceted campaigns like Shire’s eyelove and the Immunity Charm did this well).
  • Get to the point. In campaign videos, the idea must be crystal clear and grab judges in the first 10 seconds. Keep in mind the volume of entries being evaluated and the speed at which the judges must make their assessments of 600 entries for Pharma, and a whopping 2500 for Health and Wellness. There is no time for a complicated situation analysis. Cultural relevance that is made clear is also rewarded by a global jury. (See Immunity Charm and Last Laugh).

The campaigns that “won metal” in the Pharma category did not always come from the pharmaceutical industry—a sore spot for many from industry who entered. In fact, of the 25 medals given, only three went to industry—to BI for its attention-getting “Split Second” video for sales reps, Merck for its beautifully produced and moving “Push” video for Merck for Mothers, and Roche for its whimsical and clever approach to clinical trial recruitment for the Aviation study. There has been conversation in the industry and with the Lions organizers about whether pharma can win, even in a competition seemingly designed with pharma’s unique constraints in mind.

Categories may well be refined next year to accommodate such feedback, but one thing won’t change: Cannes is all about creativity, and rewarding the ideas that break through in ways that are culturally relevant, inventive and original. As the pharma industry continues to push to provide service “beyond the pill,” there are lessons to be learned from unexpected places.

Kym White is global sector chair, Health.

*Edelman client

Cannes Lions Festival