Cannes Lions 2018, image of large blue screen behind presentation stage that says "lions health"

The Best Pharma Work at Cannes Lions 2018

— Shefali Srinivas, WE 

The stardust from Cannes has settled and I’ve had time to reflect on the experience of being a first-time delegate at the Oscars of the advertising and marketing services industry.

A few highlights: Seeing Ridley Scott in conversation about film craft — he talked about the supremacy of the story and the need for engagement (the technical bits can be finessed later) — and hearing Tarana Burke, the woman who coined #MeToo, explain how it created connection and community.

It was also my first time as a Cannes jury member. I look back at the invitation now and see that it has more than lived up to its promise: “You may start the week as a group of peers, but you will fast become a circle of friends, advisors and confidants.” I learned so much from my fellow jurors and our debates on creativity, craft and what really makes for great work.

One big takeaway from the days spent looking at hundreds of entries is that low-tech ideas can win big. For instance, we awarded medals to books (yes, actual physical, print books), a set of stickers and a hearing test disguised as a film about a love story. Even as technology and medical innovation accelerate, the human factor at the core of these campaigns made a huge impact.

This is important, as there is a growing schism at the heart of healthcare — a fear that technology is outpacing our ability to harness it for human solutions. The tension inherent in the shifting balance of power between algorithms and humans was everywhere at Cannes too. Getting the balance right becomes even more critical in medicine given it impacts birth, death and the interval in between.

I’m gratified that the 16 pharmaceutical companies we awarded had a vital empathetic thread connecting their campaigns; they recognized that health is a conversation and it goes beyond the pill or the doctor’s office. Diagnosis, treatment, and recovery often occur within a web of relationships. The winning campaigns found ways to create community and real conversations for change.

Here are ten of my favorites (in no particular order) and a quick summary of why they represent some of the best work in the Pharma category.


Top 10 Best PharMa work at cannes

1. Blink to Speak

Award: Gold Lion (Non-regulated, Direct to Patient)

Agency: TBWA/India for NeuroGen Hospitals

An eye language to help paralyzed people communicate with their doctors and families in book form. There wasn’t a lot of discussion with this entry. We felt this lived up to the promise of life-changing creativity. Beautifully designed and illustrated — it is an elegant solution to an otherwise intractable problem. It went on to win the Grand Prix for Good.

2. Rx Prescription Stickers

Award: Bronze Lion (Print Collateral)

Agency: The Classic Partnership Advertising/UAE for the Dubai Health Authority

Simple pictograms to help illiterate workers understand correct prescription dosages. A clear solution to a widespread problem in the UAE where hundreds of thousands of migrant workers need to access medical services.

3. Lighter Blue

Award: Silver Lion (Regulated, Digital: Social)

Agency: MCCann/USA for Takeda

Blue is a cartoon character who feels depressed and manages to do it in a way that is at once funny and rueful. It touched a million people and created conversations about a condition that is notoriously hard to talk about. It also shows that humor, handled with sensitivity, can really work even for a serious category like Pharma.

4. MSUnderstood Café

Award: Bronze Lion (Regulated, Branded Content and Live Experience)

Agency: Fleishman Hillard/Dublin for Roche and MS Ireland

A “strange” café that helped people understand what it’s like to live with multiple sclerosis. It invited people in with an offer of cheap coffee and managed to earn media coverage and parliament attention to improve access to medicine.

5. A Warning From the Future

Bronze Lion (Ambient/Outdoor)

MCCann Health/Shanghai for Glaxosmithkline (GSK)

This campaign did a lot of things; a movie, a booth, a selfie that turned into a message from a girl’s future avatar asking her to protect herself against cervical cancer. With so many moving parts, it designed an experience to reach young women in a way that engaged them in the discussion about vaccination.

6. Change Gout

Gold Lion (UI) / Bronze (Digital Platform

Langland/UK for Grunenthal

Just go to the website. We had not seen something so beautiful and functional with a clear mission to change how gout is treated. Also, the background music appealed to almost all of us in the way that it channeled a calm and meditative state.

7. The Hearing Test in Disguise

Gold (Film craft/sound design) Silver (Branded Content) Bronze (Digital Platform)

Che Proximity/Australia for Cochlear Hearing Implants

This won for sheer inventiveness and engagement. Boy meets girl and the film shows them through different phases of life — talking, loving, sharing, arguing. The entire film is a hearing test. It is augmented by a website which lets you test yourself for hearing loss.

8. Zac’s Play Day

Silver Lion (Industry Craft: Illustration)

CDM/USA for Biogen

Opinions were starkly split on this particular entry. Some jurors felt it was just another children’s book. The others (me included) thought this was an amazing attempt to explain spinal muscular atrophy to its very little patients in an inclusive way. The illustrations are beautiful and the case film with the vote from a boy who sees his reality reflected in the book is especially moving.

9. Ouchie Band

Silver Lion (Product Innovation)

Havas Lynx Manchester for Chugai/Roche

Again, a low-tech solution to help children suffering from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) who want to fit in. The idea was a rubber bracelet that could be used by a child to communicate with teachers and caregivers during a flare up. If they’re in pain, they turn the red side out so teachers understand. Enabling empathy, no words needed. The band is part of a patient support pack with parent and patient guides starring a character named Ouchie who explains JIA to its young sufferers.

10. #Treat me Kindly

Bronze Lion (Film)

David/Argentina for Novartis

“I don’t know what to say” is a very human problem in the face of a loved one’s terminal diagnosis. Novartis partnered with patients and Argentina’s national theatre to show the words patients wished they heard. It’s impossible to look away from this without learning a new vocabulary to express difficult but vital thoughts and messages of support.