Steve Madden

In this episode of the podcast—streamed live as Steve Madden, MM&M editor-in-chief, was in Cannes covering the Lions Health awards—includes his take on McCann Health Shanghai’s “Breath of Life” initiative for GlaxoSmithKline, the first to earn a Pharma Grand Prix since 2016, as well as its counterpart on the Health & Wellness side, Ikea’s “Thisables” effort by McCann Tel Aviv. Steve shares his thoughts on the significance of those wins for the healthcare industry, as well as reflections on his time in Côte d’Azur. Below is an edited transcript.

Marc Iskowitz: Cannes being the whirlwind that it is, how are you feeling?

Stephen Madden: Everybody told me that this was going to be a crazy experience, but there’s no way to truly truly appreciate how crazy it’s going to be. Everybody in our world is here, and everybody wants to see each other at the same time. So between that and the general crush of all the events going on… and Marc, I know you’ve been here, so you know that it’s a dry heat in Cannes, but a heat nonetheless. It’s been exhausting but also really enlightening, and it’s been a lot of fun, too. The work that’s been on display is pretty amazing.

Iskowitz: No doubt, it’s been an exciting start to the week. We’ve seen your dispatches, and we’ll talk more about the sights and sounds from Cannes. But first, I wanted to start with the Pharma Grand Prix. There hadn’t been a Pharma Grand Prix awarded since 2016 and, all of a sudden, one arose from a somewhat surprising part of the world. It’s a mobile app for self-testing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Tell us about that, first from a juror perspective—you spoke with both Kathleen Nanda as well as Robin Shapiro. How did this make such a great impression inside the jury room?

Madden: It made a huge impression. I almost don’t know where to start with it. It’s an app-based program, but it’s so much more than that, too. The numbers of people being diagnosed with COPD in China are staggering, because of a very high presence of smoking and poor air quality in urban areas. And culturally it had been sort of assumed that when you get to be about 50 or 55 years old and you get winded walking up a flight of stairs, that is just part of aging. Actually, some studies including pulmonologists that GSK worked with said that the incidence of the disease brought on by smoking and environmental problems is huge. And there was almost zero awareness about the fact that this was something that people were bringing on themselves. So they sensed an idea, they sensed an opportunity to get people involved with self-diagnosis and to start the first step on the way to treatment. 

But what’s really amazing is that this program, this campaign—it’s so much more than a campaign, it really is a program—pulls together so many disparate parts of technology, communications and Chinese culture to come up with something that… It’s only been out for about a month, but so far the results are proving the efficacy to be really something. It’s based on taking your phone and blowing into the phone, into the receiver and it can basically pick up, by using an algorithm, the force with which the person is blowing into the phone. It can tell, it can give them a pretty accurate reading of what their lung capacity is, compared to what it should be for someone their age. 

I think healthcare has finally figured out what to do with this technology. It’s not technology in search of an application anymore.

Steve Madden, MM&M

What happens when you blow on it is there’s a…and I’d never heard of this—big surprise, I’m not a Chinese art scholar, but this is very common in China. You put ink on paper and you blow in order to spread the ink out over the paper. You blow this into the shape of a tree on the app, so while you’re doing it you’re creating art that you can share with your friends, while also measuring what percentage you have of the lung capacity that you should have. 

And if you’re below 60%, then you get a message saying, “Hey, you need to go to a doctor or a hospital for a more thorough examination.” So it pulls together so many different elements; there’s social media, there’s a huge sharing component to it, there’s Chinese art, and it’s just very, very well done. 

This afternoon, I went to a panel in the jury room, where three of the panelists, including the head of the panel, talked about what it was about this that was so impressive to them, and it was largely what I just said. That [the agency] had pulled together some very disparate parts of communication. But also, it’s extremely culturally relevant and it sort of shows the power of network agencies, really, buy having local groups on the ground who understand the local culture and can produce something that is more culturally relevant. 

Iskowitz: Right, so this was not just an app. As you pointed out, this was a whole initiative which involves technology and which was inspired by the Chinese art of blow painting. The phone’s microphone records the sound of your breath. I thought it would [utilize more of the phone’s tactile functions], but [measuring] how much breath you are expelling is actually achieved through sound. 

Madden: It’s the sound, and the algorithm is based on your strongest one-second of the sound of the air pressure that you create. 

Iskowitz: It’s fascinating that the algorithm translates that data into the figure of a tree. And you also spoke with Wendy Chan, ECD of McCann Health Shanghai, about how the idea came about, right?  

Madden: Yes and, like I said, it was basically on the ground they had realized how much of a problem this was in China, and GSK sensed an opportunity. Wendy was very gracious in saying that it was a complete team effort, but the work really came out of—or at least, the creative work—came out of China. Programming was done all over the world. One of the things that really amazes me is the fact that this was still on the drawing board in January and February, and it’s been on the market for about a month. 

Iskowitz: It’s amazing that they were able to approve and develop the concept that quickly, and that they were able to scale it up after consulting with a pulmonologist and artist well-versed in this art of blow painting. One of the other cool points that you had elicited on that interview with Wendy was that they had to rely on off-the-shelf technology, right? 

According to research cited by the agency, some 90% of the 100 million people estimated to have COPD in China don’t realize they have it, so they can’t be expected to buy a separate piece of technology. Thus it was really important—this being DTC effort—to rely on existing phone technology.

I sort of thought that this was maybe going to be ‘spring break for medical marketing,’ but it’s really not. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on here.

Steve Madden, MM&M

Madden: And the good news for agencies and developers is the fact that it was mostly off-the-shelf technology. In other conversations I’ve had with people, most of my reporting, people are saying that we’re in a new golden age of creativity. We’ve figured out what to do with the technology. It’s not like, “Well, we’ve got this really great [tech], what should we do with it?” 

We know how to use it, we know the best use for it and so much of it is on the shelves that you can just take it down and use it as a tool, almost as a paintbrush or paper. You don’t have to go through an expensive development process. 

Iskowitz: Absolutely, great points. I wanted to switch gears for a moment and talk about the Health and Wellness Grand Prix. This one arose from another McCann shop, McCann Health Tel Aviv, for Ikea. Tell us about that one. 

Madden: Well, this is a really interesting one and the fact that this was done in service to Ikea, which is not exactly a company that you think of when you think of health and wellness, but it just goes to reinforce the point that everything is health now and that everything is fair game. 

So, there is a copywriter in the Tel Aviv office who has cerebral palsy. They were hired by Ikea to do some work, and he told them, “Hey, there are a lot of people with some of the elements that I and people like me have, who can’t use your products properly. Or, to put a finer point on it, if you made some slight changes or adjustments, [we] would be able to use them better. So, he brought the idea to Ikea, and they went with it.

Basically what they did was create open-source technology for 3D printers to build accommodations to things like closets and sofas to help people. So the thing you can 3D print and attach to the sofa will help you stand up. In those closets there’s typically a small doorknob. People with hand and arm mobility issues can’t necessarily just reach and grab the knob. They can put their wrist or their forearm into the adaptation that they’ve created with the printer. It’s really, really special. And props to Ikea for doing it as open-source, not charging for it.

Iskowitz: It also really highlights the power of a Grand Prix, because I think Matt Eastwood, global CCO of McCann, said this has been downloaded in about 125 different countries. There’s no doubt this is going to wind up on the desk of Ikea’s global CEO, and he or she is probably going to say, “Yeah, let’s roll this out to all of our stores.” Why not?

Madden: Right. And again, this shows the power of what agencies can do and how can they help to solve problems for people and help clients to create new markets, essentially. 

Iskowitz: And the fact that it’s open-source may be one of its best elements. It speaks to a certain graciousness on the part of the client, that they’re making this available to everybody. So, getting back over to the Pharma Grand Prix…and we should mention that it was a pretty good week for McCann, as they won Network of the Year. And deservedly so, because their shops were the ones that won the Grand Prix in Pharma and in Health & Wellness. 

But, just mentioning some of the stats around the Pharma Grand Prix: there were 31 shortlisted Pharma entries, and 11 were awarded a prize this year, vs. last year there were 53 shortlisted. So, there were fewer on the shortlist this year, but we do have a Grand Prix. So what does that say about the state of creativity?

Madden: That’s a really good question, and again, it’s something that I pursued with the people here. People are feeling really optimistic about it. The fact that [the jury] awarded a Grand Prix in Pharma this year after three years of not awarding one. That’s the headline, “There’s finally been a Grand Prix,” and I asked people who were in the jury if they had felt pressure. You know, in the jury room there’s always a lot of pressure to either continue down that road of not awarding one thing because it’s not good enough, or of saying “No, we have to do something this year.” 

The fact of the matter is that they felt that there was no pressure, that there was so much good work being done. Now, you know, these are not what we typically think of as DTC ads, so they’re not restricted by the regulations that pharma companies in the U.S. have to deal with or, at least, [what] the ones that are selling to an American market have to deal with. But people basically felt that there was a huge step up in craft and not just some of the craft but all the way around. 

The rising sea level has lifted all of the boats, so there are no more sort of [half-baked]  projects that have been getting through. Everything is much more competitive, and that’s a good sign because—to go back to a point we were talking about earlier—I think we’ve finally figured out what to do with this technology. It’s not technology in search of an application anymore.

PQ: If you’ve got macular degeneration and you go to the doctor’s office and you’re waiting to be called, what are you going to do, read magazines? This is the perfect point-of-care product.

Iskowitz: Right, and just to highlight some of the other work that won in pharma, GSK, in addition to winning the Grand Prix, it also won a Gold for the COPD initiative. ViiV Healthcare won two Silver Lions for its branded HIV awareness film, called “As Much as I Can.” Eli Lilly won a Silver for its get-up alarm clock for coma patients. Merck took home a bronze for its “Merck for Others” film campaign, and Bayer had a bronze for its smart-read print publication for people with macular degeneration (MD). To your point, the jury said that craft was really on display here, and the better the craft, the better the work. So it’s really nice to see creators, people in the industry, rallying around these tough challenges and creating smart work that really goes to the heart of the matter [to help] people who are living with disease. 

Madden: Yes, and one of the points I wanted to reinforce about that magazine project for patients with macular degeneration is how completely thought-out the entire project was. It’s printed on matte paper, which is not reflective so it’s easier on the eyes. All the photography and the illustrations are done with an eye towards vivid primary colors, which are easier to see. And the type and the fonts—the type is large but the fonts are soft and easier on the eyes. So everything is designed to enhance the reading experience for people with macular degeneration. Think about it, if you’ve got MD and you go to the doctor’s office and you’re waiting to be called; what are you going to do, read magazines? Which is why this is the perfect point-of-care product. 

Iskowitz: I hadn’t thought of that. That’s another great example of craft in the service of people with a very serious health condition. I think, as Eastwood was saying in your interview, he’s kind of fresh to the industry…[and] people told him coming into the industry that pharma is skittish about being creative, and his take now is that, actually pharma is very creative, but they’re creative in the products that they’re developing and innovating.

That reminds me of the op-ed that Tim Hawkey of Area 23 wrote for mmm-online a few days ago, in which he said that this is what’s been hampering the industry: Companies haven’t necessarily felt the need to be innovative outside of product development before. 

Madden: Yes, what the pharma industry does every day is nothing short of moon landings. You think about what some of these drugs can do. Core competency within these organizations isn’t necessarily creative marketing, but with technology and the huge influx of talent into the industry, it’s their time to catch up. 

One thing that’s worth noting, though, is that the Pharma category had I think about 375 entries, which according to the jurors felt a little small, compared to Health & Wellness that had somewhat of 1200+ entries. Like I said earlier, everything is health and wellness now, right? So just look to the fact that a Gold went to Ikea, which is not what you think of when you think of healthcare. But the disparity between the two is great, so there was a sort of cry from the heart from the jury room for like, “Let’s keep making good work and let’s keep entering it and let’s keep pushing it the way we are.”

Iskowitz: Absolutely, and to paraphrase from another one of your interviews, [jurors] were a little nervous, there was a concern that the work might be a little bit dry. But there was relief when they saw the Breath initiative. There was unanimous agreement that this was breakthrough, that this was a Grand Prix in any other category. 

Core competency within healthcare organizations isn’t necessarily creative marketing, but with technology and the huge influx of talent into the industry, it’s their time to catch up.

Steve Madden, MM&M

Madden: One of the things that was really interesting that came out of the conversation with the jurors was that part of this process is that each submission includes what they call a “pitch reel,” basically saying, “Here’s what our campaign is.” And that’s sort of the point of departure for judging all the collateral that goes with it. When it came to Breath of Life, everybody watched it once. The reel was so well done and so concise and so thorough that nobody needed to see it again.

Iskowitz: That speaks to the impression that it made on them, and it made their decision a lot easier, I’m sure. So, can I get your take on any other sights and sounds that you’d like to comment on? Covering Cannes can be a surreal experience. What other impressions can you share with us about what it’s like to be there? 

Madden: My overall impression is being somewhat overwhelmed, just because there is so much work. I’m coming home tomorrow. I was just here focusing on the Health & Wellness and the Pharma tracks, but there’s sports and all kinds of other things throughout the rest of the week. And there’s definitely this kind of carnival atmosphere around it, but that’s kind of only skin deep. I mean, this is like, really serious work. I sort of thought that this was maybe going to be “spring break for medical marketing,” but it’s really not; there’s a lot of hard work that goes on here. 

To listen to the June 19, 2019, episode of the MM&M Podcast, click here.