How These 4 Cannes-Winning Ideas Can Inspire New Creative Direction in Healthcare

The Lions Health focuses on advertising most likely to lead to change

Pfizer’s This Is Living With Cancer offers a raw, emotional look into life with cancer. This Is Living With Cancer
Headshot of Leigh Householder

Cannes Lions Health is the showcase of impactful creativity. It’s where ideas from pharmaceutical innovators and healthcare marketers are debated, judged and challenged to uncover the ones most likely to fuel change and lead to life-changing outcomes.

This year’s show has over 1,800 entries, hundreds of short-listers and two days of talks on the state of healthcare creativity. Across the award winners and the mainstage talks, four themes and big ideas stood out that will continue to shape the future of healthcare marketing.

Give inspiration, not information  

Speakers from Fox, Pfizer, GSK and others agreed: People facing a health challenge absolutely go online to look for information. There’s a wealth of it there. But once people have fulfilled the need for information, they need hope.

Idea from Cannes

Pfizer’s This Is Living With Cancer program is a community, app and documentary. The film shows nine people living with cancer through terrible diagnoses, difficult treatments and the everyday ways they heal, cope and live. The stories are honest, heartrending, sometimes funny and full of the kind of personal inspiration needed to fuel what the rest of life can be.

Put our industry in a new context

Healthcare has long invested in campaigns and ads focused on redefining value, specifically showing the kind of personal commitment and financial investment that goes into bringing a life-changing treatment or service to market. Now, we’re seeing leaders changing the context of healthcare innovation. Today it’s not just healthcare change; it’s invention in its highest form.

Idea from Cannes

Merck created a campaign designed to position new treatments as among the world’s most impactful inventions. They asked people all over the U.S., “What invention can’t you wait for?” A series of answers started with flying cars and teleportation but ended with a cure. The spot says that “95 percent of people do not think of medicines as the most impactful inventions. We think they’re the most important kind.”

Add utility everywhere—especially in print

Magazines are still full of healthcare print ads accompanied by a spread of tiny print. But the print ads and tools that are winning awards and changing the future of creativity are much more utilitarian. From fliers that dissolve in an effort to fight misquotes to pages that can be held up to a vent to check the quality of the air, awareness and utility were new expectations on the Cannes shortlist.

Idea from Cannes

Ethical Marketing News

Sip Safe is a wristband for campus events created by Monash University. In addition to indicating who has shown their ID and is eligible to drink, it also shows them if their drink is safe. The wearer can put a drop of a drink on the wristband to test if it’s been exposed to ketamine or GHB, two common drugs used to spike drinks.

Encourage challenging conversations 

What we ask of people in healthcare is no small feat. We want them to challenge their doctors, talk about the symptoms that scare them, speak frankly about symptoms others can’t see or feel. Healthcare leaders are increasingly leaning in with new tools, new language and new education to make those conversations infinitely more achievable.

Idea from Cannes


The Japanese Orthopedic Association wanted to help older people maintain their mobility longer. They knew too many found themselves unable to walk on their own for years before their death. The orthopedic deficiencies that cause that weakness actually start in our 40s, but no one had a way to talk about it or test strength over time. They started their awareness campaign by giving the problem a conversation-starting name: Locomotive Syndrome (LOCOMO). Then they launched a LOCOMO Challenge through a simple test that lets people easily assess their strength and compare it to what’s expected at their age group.

In addition to the usual leaders in advocacy, 16 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world were representing on the shortlist this year. The work was more creative and powerful than ever. If these early trends and ideas drive what’s next, 2019 will be even more powerful, effective and transformative.

Leigh Householder is managing director of insights and innovation for Syneos Health Communications.