Quick, name a Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix. How about Outdoor? Titanium? It’s easy, because the campaigns you thought of changed the game and will echo in our minds for decades.
Now, name a Cannes Lions Pharma Grand Prix winner. Not as easy.
In the five years of the Pharma Lions’ existence, only two Grand Prix have been awarded, and the Pharma Lions is quickly gaining a reputation as the Lion with no Grand Prix.
Let’s take a minute to discuss why this Pharma Grand Prix Lion is such a rarity and talk about what it’s going to take to change this trend.
First, look at the range of work that’s being entered in Pharma. On one hand, you have pharma work for pharma clients by pharma agencies. As you can imagine, much of it isn’t Lion material. But there are pockets of brilliance: fantastic craft, heartbreakingly well-told stories and truly breakthrough creativity.
On the other hand, you have killer ideas from non-health agencies, either for pro bono clients or for non-health brands that are taking on a health-related cause. And somehow they got that work into the Pharma Lions without it being booted to the Health and Wellness Lions jury.
Here’s the paradox. The pure pharma work simply isn’t yet at the level to deserve a Grand Prix. The pro bono work is not qualified for a Grand Prix. And the Pharma jury is not going to hand the top prize to an unregulated consumer brand that’s dabbling in health.
You see, what the Pharma jury wants more than anything is to find real pharma work for real pharma clients that breaks through the ceiling and reaches the Grand Prix level. That’s why the Pharma Lion was introduced in the first place: to single out the best work that exists in such a regulated space.
So, what is this magical threshold? What’s the criteria that a Pharma Grand Prix will have to meet?
Well, it needs to be unassailable and without flaw. Total perfection in strategy, creativity, execution and scale. If it shares even 5% of its DNA with something that’s been done before, it’s out. If it’s a one-off without scale, PR, or results, it’s out. If it doesn’t create an instant reference point for the industry, to be copied and paid homage to for years to come, it’s out. And most importantly, if it’s not qualified to be a Grand Prix in another jury, then it’s not qualified to be a Grand Prix in Pharma. No grading on a curve.
That’s a tall order, and we’re not there yet as an industry. We’ve come a long way, for sure, but we need critical mass, not pockets of brilliance, to get to a stage where the work in the Pharma jury, meaning the real pharma work, is indistinguishable from the work in the mainstream festival.
So, if we are prognosticating about where the next Pharma Grand Prix will come from, it will be from a pharma company that, in addition to developing and marketing lifesaving, life-changing and breakthrough therapies, also recognizes that they are deserving of breakthrough creative innovation.
Now, pharma and innovation are not two words typically uttered in the same breath. And while, historically, consumer products from corn chips to Netflix have led the way in bringing marketing innovations to the lives of their customers, or at least making slick case films about it, pharma has lagged. Why? Because, the pharma products we market are life-changing innovations in and of themselves, so it’s been difficult for pharma marketers to see the need to deliver innovation beyond the product. The more breakthrough the product, the less of a need for innovative marketing.
But the world is changing around us, and so are our consumers. More and more, they expect the brands they interact with to deliver experiences, services and delights beyond the products themselves.
This is where pharma can not only close the lead with the rest of the industry but also where it can actually begin to set the pace and do work that is not only Pharma Grand Prix-worthy but also Titanium Grand Prix-worthy. Because we have the power, the access and the ability to solve the most important problems in people’s lives. We are already right there with our customers during their most difficult times, and we know so many of their pain points. We don’t have to play the “borrowed interest” game, like a chewing gum brand trying to attach itself to cyber bullying as their cause du jour. We just have to be authentic to our customers, examine what problems they have related to their illness or treatment, and use creativity to solve those problems for them.
The first pharma brand that gets over its own fears, gets past the lawyers, and delivers real, enduring, life-changing, delightful innovation to their patients beyond the medication, that is a brand that will have a shot at the Pharma Grand Prix.
Chief creative officer Tim Hawkey has co-led Area 23, an FCB Health Network Company, since 2011 and Area 23 on Hudson, an FCB Health Network Company, since 2018.