Cannes Lions Health: The Roundup Health News

Every year, the world’s leading marketers, PR professionals, creatives and advertisers come together for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where they showcase (and honor) their best work. Set alongside the harbour and main beach of Cannes, France, they network with their peers and discuss the latest industry trends. One specialist category is Lions Health, focusing on healthcare communications and marketing for the pharma and health & wellness sectors.
It’s a wrap: two days of intense learning and networking at the Lions Health are over, and the winners of the Cannes Lions for Pharma and Health & Wellness have been announced. While the judging, networking and presentations at the Cannes Lions continue, we give you our first take on the cutting edge of healthcare communications marketing.
As one of the Cannes Lions organizers put it: not that long ago, marketing for the Health industry was seen as the “red-headed step child of creativity”. Not anymore. “Creativity that saves lives” is now a force to be reckoned with, and its craft is on par with, and often outshining, that of other industries.
For marketers and communications professionals, it’s an event not to be missed, so whether you made it or not, here is our take on the key trends and some of the award-winning work at this year’s Lions Health in Cannes.

Transformation is the watchword in our industry. At a time of fake news and collapsing trust, consumers’ expectations are changing rapidly and dramatically. Healthcare companies are recognizing that these days it’s simply not good enough to tell consumers “science says so”. Anything labelled “organic” or “natural” is perceived by many as having an edge on products and medication grounded in science. “We were bombarded with negative information about our ingredients… and it didn’t matter that science was on our side,” recalled Alison Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer at Johnson & Johnson Consumer.
To counteract, brands must explore how they can reconnect with consumers without losing their integrity. It was no coincidence that three big companies – GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Merck – all used the Cannes Lions to explain how they are transforming their brand marketing and positioning. Their aims are deeper, more emotional relationships with consumers and better business outcomes. As J&J put it: the transformation was a “reinvention in an age of scepticism.”
Carlton Lawson, Head of Global Categories at GSK Consumer Healthcare, described it as a consumer mindset shift from “I know you” to “I like you” and – most importantly – to “you know me,” where brands show consumers that they truly understand their concerns, and are willing to address them.
For Atilla Cansun, CMO at Merck Consumer Health, it was about making “healthcare irresistible” by sharing people’s aspirations, communicating with emotion and creating “seductive products” that stand out to deliver “love at first sight”.
Empathy with the lives and circumstances of consumers was a theme that dominated discussions in Cannes. Yes, campaigns remain anchored in the efficacy of products and services, but there was a new focus not just on their emotional impact, but also on bringing this empathy to life – through experiential, technological and digital storytelling.
Gaining Trust is the key objective of these campaigns, and it’s more important than ever. As the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, trust in the pharma industry is reaching new lows – suffering a 13-point drop to 38% in the U.S., for example. As brands rebuild their relationships with consumers, they aim to achieve (or deliver) “value”, “love” and “trust”, although ultimately they all mean the same thing: demonstrating to consumers that they understand and address their wants, needs, emotions and concerns. Seeing the case studies on display at Cannes and listening to two days of talks, panels and workshops, with many sessions running in parallel, the “how-to” was obvious: Underpinned by data insights, brands are now focusing on “telling real stories using real people” that use empathy to gain trust (or love). This approach is not without pitfalls. “Everybody tries to be authentic,” but most consumers can see right through when it isn’t, warned an industry outsider on one of the panels.
That’s also why campaigns should not just be about triggering emotions – even though many videos in Cannes were real tear-jerkers. Don’t “lob one-off things over the wall,” health marketers were warned; address real needs and make sure campaigns are scalable.
Transparency, the comms professionals in Cannes agreed, has now definitely become table stakes, even if that means – in the words of J&J’s Alison Lewis – that “in an age of transparency you can’t have any trade secrets”. Consumers not only want transparency, they also demand deep but easy-to-understand information. Brands, though, face the dilemma that while some people are keen to be informed, others refused to engage with public health campaigns for “fear of finding out” (FOFO), as an AbbVie campaign put it, bad news about their health.

It’s not just the name: The Cannes Lions at times resemble a crowded zoo. Spare a thought for the jurors, who find themselves trapped every day for 12 hours or more in windowless rooms. Everybody else – and the list of attendees is a rollcall of many of the top names in the industry –is crowding the corridors and event spaces of the “Palais” conference center – to debate, learn and network. If you want to get a feel for where our industry is at, Cannes is the place to be.
The leaders of the digital attention economy – Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify, Snapchat and many others – are betting big on offline experiences, occupying a large stretch of the Cannes beach, where they entertain guests at parties fueled by DJs, live acts and plenty of food and drink.

The Pharma and Health & Wellness categories saw plenty of change this year; they now have a clear distinction between regulated and unregulated campaigns, as well as a separate category for non-profit work.
Here are links to the full lists of winners in Health and Wellness and Pharma.
What became obvious is that there is no difference in terms of creativity and craft between campaigns for regulated and unregulated products and services. For the best campaigns, purpose and brand values were inextricably linked, with campaigns often delivering life-changing outcomes.
There was enormous diversity in the campaigns, but there were a few trends: many campaigns focused on helping children understand or cope with their illnesses, like “Zac’s play day”, a children’s book helping youngsters living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and – a double gold winner – “The Imaginary Friends Society”, which uses cartoons and a (yet to be launched) AR experience to help children with cancer.
Gender equality and female health issues were other big story strands, like the much-lauded Stay-free campaign that helped sex workers in India to learn skills on their “days off”, which are the three days when they have their period.
Effectiveness and measurable results reign. An Eli Lilly campaign featured the “smallest booth” ever made, raising awareness for STS – an extremely rare cancer – and targeting 144 specialists, with the campaign reaching more than 70% of them. “TV Doctors of America, Season 2”, from Cigna won, demonstrating the value of humour and the importance of delivering measurable outcomes, in this case boosting the number of doctor visits.
It’s worth noting that the shortlisted work and the winners came from all around the world, with some of the most creative ideas hailing from smaller markets.

So what makes a winner? It obviously starts with a great creative idea, but two sessions gave marketers a glimpse inside the jury rooms for Pharma and Wellness & Health. Here are some of the tips and warnings of this year’s jurors.

Health & Wellness
The Grand Prix went to “Corazon – Give Your Heart”, a campaign to drive organ donations for Montefiore hospital, with another eight gold lions awarded in this category. From the jurors:
  • Integrated campaigns with broad reach that triggered change and had measurable outcomes came out on top.
  • Winning campaigns “elevate the industry”, they drive creativity, raise the profile of our industry and change how we communicate and interact.
  • It’s the idea that matters – and a powerful case-study film helps too.
  • The idea has to be authentic. It has to scale. It has to solve a problem.
  • Film is gaining in prominence (in contrast to print and photography), as is technology.
The Pharma category did not award a Grand-Prix for the second year running; jury president Rich Levy said that “there was no campaign that lived up to the idea of genuinely life changing-creativity”.
There were only two Gold Lions, awarded to “Blink to Speak” (a campaign for the Asha Ek Hope Foundation in India, teaching patients with ALS a ‘blink language’) and “Change Gout “(for Grunenthal, who wanted to help healthcare professionals gain a better understanding of the illness). The jurors said:
  • We want campaigns that “show us what the future of communication and marketing look like”.
  • It’s not enough to “raise awareness”. Action and outcomes are critical.
  • We have seen enough suffering in slow-motion and black & white. Give humor a chance.
  • Be mindful where you enter your work. A scattergun approach doesn’t work.
  • Trust is essential to build relationships with patients and caregivers, which makes them essential for brand success.
  • Campaigns must be grounded in empathy and emotional storytelling.
  • Measuring outcomes has to be an integral part of your campaign.
  • Brands are expected to do more. Go beyond the science, treatment outcomes and product benefits. Demonstrate value to the individual that changes society or their lives.
  • Focus on communication. Even emotional campaigns have to have a message at their heart.
  • Brand transformation is not a journey from A to B, but a never-ending story.
  • Technology is gaining ground – either for campaign delivery, or as a tactic that sits at the heart of a campaign.
  • Integrated campaigns that take an idea and play it out across the whole spectrum of communications marketing have the best chances of winning big in Cannes.
Every year, the world’s leading marketers, PR professionals, creatives and advertisers come together for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where they showcase their best work, network and discuss the latest industry trends. The Lions Health track has grown in prominence in recent years, focusing on healthcare communications and marketing for the pharma and health & wellness sectors.
The talks, panels and roundtables at Cannes Lions Health explored how the communications strategies of the healthcare industry have to evolve at a time of massive change in both the industry and consumer expectations. The focus is shifting from the medication to the patient – while at the same time it’s matter for debate whether we should be referring to “patients” or “people”.
Edelman was proud to host two roundtables at Lions Health that brought together healthcare professionals, tech industry experts NGOs and agency leaders to tackle two key issues facing our industry: How can data-gathering and targeting be used for good, and how can we successfully engage with consumers through “storytelling” rather than “storyselling”? Both sessions were lively exchanges of insights and ideas, and proof of what’s possible at the Lions Health.
As one participant put it: “This is both the most exciting time for healthcare and the most challenging”.
Here are key insights from our roundtable events:

“We need to build trust” was a consistent phrase during most panels, talks and roundtables at Lions Health, but this – all agreed – was not an easy task. One panelist declared the healthcare system to be “broken”, because neither patients nor the healthcare providers were investing a lot into health, only into illness.
Some argued that trusting one’s medication is not realistic, and instead of trust, companies should try to build “brand love” or “brand value.” Others questioned which drugs – with the possible exception of Viagra (a PR professional joked) – could even claim anything like brand love. As one participant put it: “The world [of healthcare communications] is changing, but is it a priority to build love? You can’t love your doctor, he won’t write you a prescription even if you have a great relationship.” Whether trust, value, or love, all agreed that healthcare companies must deliver demonstrable value to stakeholders beyond product benefits or traditional patient assistance programs.

The importance and potential applications of data in healthcare is rising rapidly: as an early warning system for diseases; as a tool to understand, predict and prevent illnesses; and as a storytelling device that helps us identify the biggest hopes and concerns of patients and consumers alike.
The healthcare industry understands the power of using data for good but faces two critical challenges: it’s one of the most regulated industries, and consumers have to understand and believe that health data can be used for good. Around the world, consumers are deeply concerned about the privacy of health data. That’s partly cultural (as one participant posited, Asian patients are more concerned about privacy than, say, Americans or Europeans), partly economic (amid concerns that data could leak and be used to stigmatize individuals, or that insurers use them to justify higher premiums or even refuse coverage).
Participants debated the power of anonymised data for extremely precise forecasting, but acknowledged that most consumers would assume the data collection by pharmaceutical firms would be for profit, not purpose. One pharma industry expert said patients were deeply conflicted about data: “they want companies to use their data, but they are also worried about it when they do”. The healthcare industry would have to convince consumers that data would be used for the good of patients – with patients’ skepticism made worse by reports about the use and abuse of data collected by Facebook.

One potential solution, the data roundtable agreed, would be “data philanthropy” and non-traditional partnerships, through which data from health or non-health industries can be used to address public health threats. As a first step, healthcare companies would have to shed their customary data secrecy, which in turn would show consumers that data are being collected for a good purpose and following high ethical standards. One participant cited the telecoms operator Orange, who had helped track the spread of Ebola by sharing anonymized data of people’s movements across West Africa.
Insurance companies, meanwhile, could flip their model and focus on the “wellness data” instead of the “sickness data”, for example by rewarding and incentivizing regular exercise, instead of punishing poor health with higher premiums.
Flipping from treating illness to promoting wellness raised a number of questions. “When a company knows that you will have diabetes in a year from now, who should contact you – your doctor or the company that gathered the data? And how will patients feel about it?” Then there was the age-old question for individuals: Do I want to know? People will trust pharma companies more once they don’t just sell them medication, but help them manage their diseases, said a pharma executive.
Data in healthcare, everyone agreed, “is just getting started”, but is set to dominate a broader debate across industries. Participants agreed that the healthcare industry has an opportunity to lead in using data for good, however, this would require breaking from tradition and institutionalised protocol.

To achieve this, the healthcare industry has to dig into how to truly understand and connect authentically with consumers. How come, we asked our second roundtable, that people love the technology in their smartphones and other gadgets, but neglect to regularly take (never mind talk about) their innovative medicines?
The key difference, a marketer noted, was that technology is about wants, while medication is about needs. In this context, it’s worth noting that both gadget makers and car manufacturers these days mainly talk about the lifestyle they enable, something the pharma industry is only beginning to emulate now, agreed the roundtable participants.
Instead of focusing on the health benefits, successful campaigns were telling the stories of their patients, and the lifestyle that these medications were enabling – and not through actors, but real stories of real people and their authentic experiences.
Storytelling had to be about “showing empathy” and proving that “we understand patients”. It was “the key to building trust”. One participant from the technology industry encouraged focusing on “friction points”. Interestingly in this context, most of the short-listed campaigns at Cannes had moved from analog to digital, and focused on building empathy through experiential storytelling.
Blaming the challenges of operating in a regulated environment doesn’t cut it anymore, participants agreed. There’s an urgent need to really speak to consumers, using the techniques of other industries – whether that’s the tech industry or fast-moving consumer goods.
Agreement was that ultimately, health brands have to learn to speak to consumers on their terms, and with integrity.

Trusted storytelling must be grounded in transparency, for example, by sharing anonymized data and in language easily understood. Most importantly, though, companies must demystify and humanize the medical language they use. Most patients, it was noted, don’t want to be “in the drivers seat” when it comes to medical decision making, but expect frank and clear information.
The solution is quality, not quantity, though. Persuading patients – especially Millennials – to engage with all this transparency is a challenge in itself. Gamification might be a solution, similar to fitness band challenges or using the Wii Sport to get army veterans to exercise. “We have to make things less threatening, more fun and help people overcome their fears”, said one marketer.

The Achilles heel of the industry, everybody agreed, was language. Just using the word “medication” was turning consumers into patients, and – as one participant put it – patients see themselves, yet don’t want to be seen as, victims.
The participants noted there was a reason people felt good about and were diligent in taking vitamins every day – they believe they are doing something empowering and for their health, while patients are often less adherent when it comes to taking their medication every day.
Could the industry transform its relationship with ‘patients’ by pivoting the conversation and turn it into one about wellness and self-care? How can we help people celebrate that which can make them better?
The discussion became particularly animated over whether healthcare companies needed an internal challenger – like a chief humanity officer who makes sure the patient experience is better by design.
Changing the language would also incentivize people to become more proactive about their health. Another approach – especially for healthcare providers – could be to remove friction points in the care process, however small. “What do people complain about after a hospital visit?” asked a doctor. “It’s mainly the hotel functions of the hospital stay, not the care they received.”
Healthcare attitudes of Millennials arguably encapsulated our industry’s challenges: thanks to technology, this generation is more empowered than any other to deal with its health – but also does very little about it.