"Good Enough" Will Never be Good Enough, Especially at Cannes

John Reid, Wunderman DC

Wunderman does a lot of work for a lot of brands in a lot of businesses, from banking and financial services to automotive and airlines to healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing. We've been entering our work at Cannes for years, but at Wunderman Health had shied away from entering our healthcare work—particularly in pharma—because we knew due to industry restrictions there was no way we would beat the likes of Old Spice, Xbox, or Nike.

So I was incredibly excited when Cannes Lions launched Lions Health in 2014. Finally, a level playing field! And wouldn't you know it, we won a Lion that first year.

See also: Lions Health 2016: pharma winners

I had the honor of being asked to judge for the third year of Lions Health. While I've judged a lot of shows in my time—the One Show, the Clios, the Young Lions— there is something special about Lions Health. It's our industry's version of the Oscars. The judging takes place the week before the festival, so I packed my bags and headed to the south of France.

I was very curious to get into the jury room and see how the process would proceed. Who would the other judges be? Would they all just vote for their own work (or worse, vote against mine)? What would they think makes a campaign “good enough” to win at Cannes? Turns out that the members of the jury were incredible people who, much like myself, were all striving to raise the creative bar in healthcare.

The first two days of judging consisted of being locked away in a dark room deep in the bowels of the Grand Palais, going through every one of the 700 plus entries and culling them down to a shortlist. The days were long and grueling—as many as 14 hours long—but equally inspiring, as there was so much great work to see. We had an espresso machine, which was a huge help.

The third day was when the real fun started. As a group we went through our shortlists, debating the merits of each entry, and started to think about awarding the hardware. In the end, we felt good about our final list.

See also: What pharma brands can learn from Lions Health

I thought the fourth day would be the easiest, as our list was pretty tight. Boy, was I wrong. There was healthy debate around, “Is this really gold-worthy?” and “How can we give this one a bronze and that one a silver?” We also had to award the coveted Grand Prix. Around midnight, blurry-eyed, we handed in our final list of winners and headed back to the hotel for some sleep. Job done.

The morning of the fifth day we had a press conference to kick off the festival and talk about the work, what we saw, what we liked, and why we honored what we did. Someone from the press made the point that a lot of the winners were cause-based/nonprofit work, and wondered if branded pharma could ever win at Cannes. The truth is branded pharma can win (for the record, we awarded a gold to an amazing Pfizer campaign from Asia). But overall, we saw a lot of “I can see why they had to do that” work. We weren't grading on some sort of good-enough-for-pharma curve. This is Cannes. We were grading work on the basis of whether we thought it was good or not. Period.

So, yes, the spots with smiling actors walking a dog on the beach or spots featuring anthropomorphized organs running around cracking jokes will probably never win. I understand why teams made these (and yes, I've made a few of these myself). But if your goal is to create Cannes-worthy work, you need to be brave enough to push for something different, rather than just selling work that will sail through a client review or a legal department.

See also: Pharma marketing as first mover? Cannes offers a glimpse

To me, the best work we saw wasn't about selling a pill, potion or treatment. It was about selling hope through great storytelling and making a strong emotional connection—work that was honest and brave, like the “Breathless Choir” or “Last Words” campaigns. If you harness data and creative to make a real connection to your audience, people will follow the bread crumbs and seek information about your product. That's the kind of work that won, and will continue to win, at Cannes.

In the end, I came back inspired: Inspired by all of the great work from all over the world, inspired by my fellow jury members and, most of all, inspired to keep pushing my teams and partners to make great work. Because “good enough” will never be good enough, especially for Cannes.

John Reid is chief creative officer of Wunderman DC.