Observations of the Cannes Lions International Festival

Posted by Raghu Desikan from Ogilvy Health on July 12, 2019


First, let’s get all of the terrible puns out of the way. It wasn’t exactly a Cannes job. For most in traditional pharma, it was a case of no Cannes do. Therefore, it seems like a good time to evaluate the pros and Cannes of participating.


While the work that won awards at Cannes and in the health and wellness category was truly inspiring, uplifting, and wonderful, it was hard to find direct connections to the work we do every day in pharma marketing. Why, you ask? Well, let’s put it this way: Ikea won a Grand Prix for ThisAbles in the health and wellness category. Ikea, makers of the Swedish meatballs and Airbnb furniture. Even Burger King had a health entry. Oh mon dieu!


Within the pharma category, GSK won the Grand Prix for “Breath of Life,” an initiative out of China. They came up with a nifty COPD self-testing app on the WeChat platform, where the air blown was converted into Chinese-blowing ink style art. Was it an FDA-approvable clinically accurate app? It wasn’t, but heck, it won big, anyway.



Bottom line: as things currently stand, it’s difficult for mainstream pharma submissions (ads, conventions, etc.) to make the cut—and almost all of the traditional entries fell short of the podium. Where there was success, it was not related to the direct promotion of the brand per se, but to a greater purpose aligned with the brand’s grand ambitions.


If we take a step back, we can see a trend about big ideas. Not those in terms of traditional ads, TV spots, and apps, but those in the broader sense, which move a brand forward in the eyes of its customers and stakeholders. We need to rethink what creative is about. And it’s not really all that different from what we do. It’s still about ideas, except that there are no limits.


It’s still about ideas, except that
there are no limits.


What’s the magic formula? What works best is social responsibility-driven communications that can help clients indirectly by tying the brand to a worthy cause. Think of it as virtue- or benefit-selling. It begins by asking the right questions and looking at the problem differently. With all the changes in society, we need to look broadly at our target audience. Are we ignoring particular audiences because they are not direct users? How can we indirectly boost the brand’s equity and share-of-voice as well as approach our clients using conventional tactics with which they are comfortable?


With all the changes in society, we need to look broadly at our target audience.


To win, it takes a passionate team and some incredible footwork. We need to ensure that these ideas align with the brand’s greater purpose. We need to get clients excited about the benefits of virtue- and benefit-selling. And we need to rekindle that passion that attracted us to this profession in the first place.