Going for the ultimate goal

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James Chase
James Chase

If you are a creative director in the healthcare sector, or a fan of soccer, chances are you will have had June 12 circled on your calendar for a long time.

Not only did this mark the opening night of the greatest show on earth—the World Cup, for any sub-rock dwellers among you—but it was also the day that delegates assembled on the French Riviera on the eve of the first ever Lions Health festival of creativity in healthcare communications.

For decades and decades, an unwritten directive has governed both the marketing and sports professions in the US: namely, that America shall lead the rest of the world in advertising; and leave the rest of the world to play soccer.

How times change. As we were going to press, the US soccer team was on the verge of a miracle in Brazil, fighting its way out of the “group of death” against international football powerhouses Germany and Portugal.

Not so in the south of France, where US agencies were limping home to lick their wounds after a mediocre showing. The pool of 393 US submissions (more than one in four of the total entries) had produced just 23 of the 208 shortlist pieces overall and only four Lions (one gold, one silver and two bronze) from the 54 that were handed out. They were like the Spain of the Lions Health.

Since when was the US better at soccer than advertising? What went wrong in Cannes?

Jeremy Perrott, the global creative director at McCann Health, and the head of the Lions Health pharma jury, was at pains to point out that the US work wasn't all horrible. “The standard was good, but we had to set the bar high in the first year,” he said.

But the numbers don't lie. The US work didn't cut it.

UK-based Langland was crowned Agency of the Year and executive creative director Andrew Spurgeon was also on the pharma jury. What did he think of the US work? “Certain aspects were good but the focus and attention to detail weren't there,” he said. “The pieces looked great at first, but as they were rolled out to different ­channels, the integration was lacking, they often didn't have the same level of commitment.”

Somewhat controversially, the pharma group elected not to award a Grand Prix in the first year—­­not to the US or to anybody else. “When you look for a Grand Prix, you have to look for something that blows your head off,” said Perrott. “We had work that came close and we had lots of passionate debate. But if we didn't have that piece where we felt, ‘This is it,' then we would be cheating ourselves and the industry. So it's a challenge to the industry and we look forward to next year. And then, hopefully, the bar will have been raised.”

So there's your challenge for the year ahead. It would be easy to shy away from the Cannes experience at this point. But it is an inspirational environment and one in which US agencies should, and can, compete. So follow the lead of the US soccer team. Regroup, repurpose, pinpoint your strategy, execute immaculately, and do it with passion and flair. The first Lions Grand Prix in pharma beckons.

One US organization will have emerged from both international tournaments in great shape: Johnson & Johnson. Not only did a campaign for Janssen's Simponi by McCann Health Sydney win a rare Gold Lion in the pharma category; but as official healthcare sponsor of the World Cup, the fervent engagement of the US audience won't have done J&J any harm at all. It's funny how the world works sometimes.

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