This year’s Cannes Lions Health awards included a Grand Prix for Area 23’s Sick Beats in the Pharma Lions, and two Grands Prix in the Health & Wellness Lions: TBWA/London for Beco’s #StealOurStaff and AMV BBDO London for Essity’s #WomenPainStories. Other awards included a Bronze Lion for VMLY&R’s Chantix Camping.

MM+M caught up with Area 23’s chief creative officer Tim Hawkey and VMLY&R’s chief creative officer Augé Reichenberg to learn more about the winning entries.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

MM+M: Augé, what was the motivation behind the Chantix Camping campaign?

Reichenberg: Medicine itself allows people to quit smoking in a slow way. They can ease into quitting. Over time, they lose their urge to smoke, and that’s the power of medicine. So it was of course the brilliance of a clever copywriter coming up with this idea, that there is this expression of “cold turkey” and quitting cold turkey, which we know fails.

What do you think made the campaign stand out to the jury?

Reichenberg: The storytelling and craft, because we show the turkey really living as a smoker. He’s like a regular guy, everything he’s doing is slow, relaxed and easy just the way we want you to feel about the medicine.

More importantly, when we start to really look at the craftsmanship, it all looked so easy on the screen, but even some top guys at Pixar had noticed that in this kind of animation, there’s nowhere to hide, and everything has to be pixel-perfect. We actually had to invent new simulation tools for this animation. There were some we invented that are completely new that we’re very proud of. It allowed us to do what was almost impossible – not only to rebuild the turkey and the way it looks – but we had to change it really from looking very unattractive to something cute and charming. We had over 4,000 reticulated feathers to deal with. Each one can move individually, or the 4,000 feathers can move all together.

Tim, what was the genesis behind the Sick Beats idea?

Hawkey: It goes back four-plus years to 2017. We ruminated over the idea, and we were then struck over the next couple years by the haptic technology that was coming out for consumers that allowed them to really enjoy music with these cool vests and other sorts of contraptions. We looked into the science of it, and it turns out they generate the same soundwaves that have been proven to clear mucus. That’s when it all came together.

We got onboard with one tech company, medical directors and pulmonologists. We had a clinical trial recruited and ready to go last February, and then the pandemic hit and everything was scrapped. A lot of the partners walked away, and then we reinvigorated the product with Woojer, and Woojer was more than thrilled to jump in last March, in the middle of the pandemic. We developed the Sick Beats vest in parallel to their consumer product. We basically added transducers and power supply; worked with our pulmonologists to target the transducers to lung areas; and launched it this March with an experience trial to a bunch of families.

Sick Beats is a bit different from other entries in Pharma Lions, given it’s a tech-focused product rather than a traditional campaign. What about Sick Beats and its user experience do you think made it stand out?

Hawkey: The reason that I think it captivated the jury? The expression on the little girl’s face kind of says it all. When she tries this vest on for the first time, her eyes fill with tears, and she said, “I was thinking about all the time I spent in my life not doing this, stuck in my room for 30 minutes at a time, twice a day, when I could’ve been doing this.” The impact on the individual is really big. That’s what’s so interesting about it: We didn’t just fix a problem; we created an experience. These kids now have something that is 10 times cooler than anything their friends have.

How did COVID-19 impact the development of Sick Beats and what did you learn from it?

Hawkey: It impacted it very negatively to the point where it destroyed the whole project and everybody walked away, and it was impossible. You could not do a clinical trial for kids with cystic fibrosis in March of 2020. We all took a breather and we went into the mode of like, “Let’s all stay alive; let’s see if we can all stay employed; let’s see if we can keep other people alive.” Come the third quarter, we were already back into the full swing of things.

It also impacted production. We have a film of all these kids made up of footage shot by moms. We developed this production scheme where one of our producers basically grabbed 10 iPhones from IT, purchased a bunch of monopods and boom mics, and created a fleet of drop kits. You open the package and all the production stuff is inside. She trained these moms how to shoot and how to do it well. And ultimately when it was time to film, the moms were absolutely on point. They knew all the technical jargon and were shooting in 4K at 30 frames per second.

Do you have any comments on new trends in pharma marketing as highlighted by some of your other entries or wins?

Hawkey: We are just as proud of our InsMed client for winning two silver Pharma Lions for two separate films, Unbreakable and Trapped. We have been really pushing into the film and animated film space, and the jury I was in was awash with really beautiful animations from so many different companies. So we could really see that the trend has caught on.

In addition, the pandemic has forced many pharmaceutical companies to invest in animation over live action. The result is that there was a lot of really beautiful work. So it’s even more impressive that these two films stood out the way they did, and that comes down to the absolute devotion to craft that comes out in the two films.

Moreover, the project Parkinson’s Cards to Heros [which did not win] represents the beginning of a commitment on the Neurocrine Biosciences team to go beyond the molecule. We’ve all got these great molecules, but what are pharma firms doing beyond the molecule? It’s about creating this beautiful activation for patients that solves a seemingly small problem in their lives and gives them a greater sense of purpose. It’s what these companies should be doing right now. I think today’s consumers are going to start expecting a lot more from pharma brands.

How did the virtual event this year differ from previous years?

Hawkey: The Cannes Lions team is doing a fantastic job given the circumstances. They have approximated the experience to the level they can. That said, I really wish we were all in France.