Here I am, almost two weeks post the Lions Health festival and I find myself still picking the splinters out of my arse.

This isn’t down to some bizarre ‘paddling’ ritual and initiation into the Cannes gang, but more to do with the fact that I am still straddling the fence, weighing up the pros and cons of the festival itself.

Firstly, to coin the old advertising cliché, there was some amazing ‘I wish I’d done that’ work on display and there was also some which left me a little ‘meh’ to be honest, but that is creativity. It’s subjective and dividing by nature and is intended to spark debate and response in order to better itself, after all.

There was also a huge amount of awareness, entrepreneurial and social-good pieces entered. My favourite winner was the ‘Intimate words’ book which enabled the indigenous female population of Mexico to be able to overcome the taboos associated with their intimate parts, helping them to speak to their doctors about any sexual health issues they may have.


I also really liked ‘Hairfest’, which had metallers exchanging locks of their own glossy hair to gain entry to a rock festival. The donated manes were then used to make wigs for children suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.


Both pieces are undoubtedly smart ideas and worthy winners in the Health and Wellness category.

Where things get a little muddier is within the pharma category.

I feel that there is something of a misnomer in the category title because hardly any of the work that won was ‘pharma’ in the traditional product-promoting and advertising sense.

I think that the majority of agencies that work within this sector would struggle to compete with an idea built around supplying cool and cost-effective prosthetic limbs to children or the recruitment of medical specialists for the Australian Air Force, to give but two examples.

It doesn’t matter how well thought through and carefully crafted a piece is, the fact is that there’s just too much space between social and awareness projects like the aforementioned and the actual product/brand promotional pieces that the majority of pharma agencies produce, no matter how great they are. This must make judging difficult and I wonder whether they actually even belong in the same category?

Of course, a great idea is a great idea, regardless of where it sits, and should be awarded on its own merits. So it may be that we find ourselves with just one big Cannes Lions awards where health and wellbeing sit alongside the mainstream consumer entries. ‘This Girl Can’ crashed our party after all, but if this were to happen, I can’t help feeling that pharma will be the partygoer left in the hallway trying to break into a conversation with the haughty hipster crowd.

I also wonder whether we will ever get to the point where we have the FCB Infernos of this world waving their Health Grand Prix gongs under the noses of mainstream pharma clients with the promise of getting one for them.

I suspect the answer is no because it would be just as difficult for them to compete in our own little specialist world and to be honest, would they really want to dirty their hands with reference packs and the ABPI? And anyway, do clients really care or even know about Lions Health at this point?

So, I‘m still divided about Cannes Lions Health.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved it and I think it’s crucial that we are part of it. It’s undoubtedly an inspiring and vital display of wonderful ideas and opinions from incredibly bright people we can all learn from – this can only serve to have a positive effect on the industry and the way we approach opportunities, – but maybe we need to define what ‘pharma’ really means and where it belongs in relation to Lions Health.

Finally, if you haven’t already read it, I urge you to take a look at Olly Caporn’s witty and wry observation on the same subject which made me fall from atop of my fence in paroxysms of laughter.


I’ve since climbed back up.


1 reply »

  1. I don’t think consumer agencies will clamour for our bread-and-butter detail aid and leavepiece work, but I do think it will become increasingly difficult for health agencies to get the disease awareness, OTC, charity and wellness work we all want to do.


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