Cannes Lions 2022

Health at home on the main stage

By Natxo Diaz 

In case you missed it, a landmark moment in the history of creative comms took place this month on the French Riviera: health swaggered onto the main stage at Cannes for the very first time – and showed the world it truly belonged there. It’s been a long time coming. But if celebrating ‘life-changing creativity’ is the Festival’s mission, evidence suggests that Cannes Lions may have found its perfect match. Health creative is changing people’s lives.

The accolades make impressive reading. Across two awards tracks – Pharma and Health & Wellness – health captured nine Golds, 15 Silvers, 23 Bronzes and two Grand Prix. And it made its mark on the wider program too, with a glut of shortlisted and winning entries in non-health categories. Make no mistake, health is one of the hottest tickets in town, and it is drawing amorous glances from marketers everywhere.

The recognition is well-deserved, but it’s the human impact of creativity across our sector that’s finally making people sit up and take note. That human impact was there for all to see at Cannes.

One of the most notable trends this year was evidence that technology and partnerships are adding value beyond medicine and really making a difference in patients’ lives. We knew this already but it’s great to see the approach being recognized on the big stage. The most awarded campaigns were person-centered and relied on the creative use of technology to connect audiences and create better experiences.

Cannes Lions 2022

Cannes Lions is a celebration of ideas that change lives. And, as we’ve seen this year, it’s an amazing showcase for the power of ideas in health. Image courtesy of VMLY&R

A great example is “I Will Always Be Me”, a first-of-its-kind book for people living with motor neurone disease (MND) that ‘banks’ their voices as they read it out loud. The innovation, developed through partnership with Dell and Intel, allows people with MND to preserve the unique characteristics of their voices before their condition deteriorates, rather than relying on voice systems that make them sound robotic. It won the Pharma Grand Prix.

Another example – this time winning Gold in Health & Wellness – is Stabyl, an app that stabilizes content on iPads, providing easier access to digital content for people with Parkinson’s and involuntary hand tremors.

These innovations are transforming experiences; creativity going beyond advertising to solve problems. Cannes Lions 2022 charted an evolution in health comms: our work is going further than old-school advertising, further than a piece of film or an impactful image. Today, increasingly, we’re creating experiences for audiences. We’re taking them to common places and telling stories that connect them to a different reality to help solve their problems.

There’s an acceleration of marketers in health racing towards experience advertising. An awarded example of this is ‘The Battle Inside’, a game that tells young people about leukemia, challenging them to ‘fight cancer to beat cancer’. Its purpose is to raise both awareness and funding. It’s the perfect match between classical advertising, experience advertising, and entertainment. Modern audiences want to be entertained by brands. This was reflected on the winner’s podium, with gamification and immersive experiences earning much recognition.

One of the most satisfying things that stood out for me at the Festival was health’s growing belief and investment in ‘the craft’. Taking care of the details. This is a huge passion of mine. A big idea with poor execution will never work. A great idea, executed well, will change lives.

Cannes Lions 2022

One of the most notable trends this year was evidence that technology and partnerships are adding value beyond medicine and really making a difference to patients’ lives. Image courtesy of VMLY&R.

Health marketers are now taking care of the details. Lions Health revealed an industry crafting really strong production — crafting really strong visuals and Hollywood-style movie-craft. You only have to look at the animation of ‘Lil Sugar – Master of Disguise’ – which won the Grand Prix for Good – to see why it’s getting so much attention. It’s like a Hollywood production, a Pixar animation. It’s the craft and the execution that’s elevating this work.

It’s important to have a brilliant idea. That’s a must. But if you don’t invest in the craft, in the production, and in the experience of what you’re presenting to your audience, it’s not going to work in the same way. Happily, Cannes has shown us that health’s investment in the craft is increasing – and that belief is paying off.

And finally, let’s talk about that swagger. Make no mistake, health did swagger onto the main stage at Cannes – and it had every reason to feel confident. For years, pharma marketing has had a reputation for being ‘behind the curve’, always ‘learning from consumer’. This year, I’d like to think we turned that cliché on its head. Other sectors are learning from health. Consumer brands are recognizing that health is a great way to engage their audience, and they’re building their brand stories around it. It’s here where health has an edge.

Society is looking to brands to see if they’re doing good things and have sustainable goals. In health, they don’t need to look very far. All our work has a ‘do good’ ending; we’re transforming lives. In a world of purpose-driven brands, there’s nothing more purposeful than improving someone’s health. Cannes showed the world that our best communications have a meaningful purpose, always centred around people and patients. We don’t have to manufacture need.

Cannes Lions is a celebration of ideas that change lives. And, as we’ve seen this year, it’s an amazing showcase for the power of ideas in health. For the first time, the Festival put health at center stage, shining a light on an industry intent on maximizing data, technology and experience design to find real solutions to meaningful problems. We didn’t disappoint. We swaggered.

Natxo Diaz, VMLY&R Natxo Diaz is Chief Creative Officer Spain, VMLY&R Health.