Northlich Goes to Cannes

Underdog Wins Big at Cannes!

That was the headline I imagined. Sure, it was a long shot, but having been raised on a steady diet of Disney, the idea was lodged somewhere in my brain that if I believed, it could come true.

That didn’t happen ­– at least not for us.

We entered a favorite campaign, Scooter the Neutered Cat. Instead of lecturing people or trying to guilt them about spay/neuter, we used humor to raise awareness, change behavior and save feline lives. Maybe, as one of my teammates quipped, the judges were dog lovers …

While we didn’t win, we did have the opportunity to see and hear much that was thought provoking. As a Cannes Health first-timer, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I figured I’d see jaw-droppingly gorgeous work. Amazing executions. Brilliant ideas.

What I saw was work that stretched my definition of creativity. For example, Life-Saving Dot is a clever idea that uses the bindi, a prevalent symbol of beauty, as a patch to deliver a daily dose of iodine to women who are dying from lack of this essential nutrient. The Solidarity Queue has volunteers stand in for people waiting hours for an attraction so the person can donate blood and not lose her place in line.

Both ideas are built around an insight into improving or saving lives. Although they make perfect sense for a show where the tagline is “Life-Changing Creativity,” their application to the types of assignments we brief in our agency was a little less obvious. Their executions didn’t amaze me. And when another attendee listening to the insights of the judges’ panel asked whether technology should be a separate category, I wasn’t the only person in the audience nodding along.

We did have the opportunity to have a lovely chat with one of the judges (over some equally lovely rosé) whether craft might have taken a lower priority than we would have liked. The answer was, yes – in some cases. But to be fair, earlier in the day in a walkthrough of the work, the same judge noted that the This Girl Can video was one of the best pieces of filmmaking he had seen in years: “every cut, every piece of music, created for one country but seen in many.” That dichotomy in production values, even among the winners, fascinated me.

There was also clear acknowledgment that people often do not want to work in this arena because of the restrictions and regulations. There’s the perception that the work isn’t as exciting or good or the clients are happy with less. It’s a conversation I have on a regular basis. And it’s frustrating. There is some truth to it, but we’re all responsible for making sure that it doesn’t stay true. Perhaps that’s why I was particularly struck by the challenge GSK CEO Emma Walmsley gave to creatives: “Are you doing your part or blaming clients and allowing mediocrity?" It’s a powerful question and highlights the need to continue to raise the bar on creativity in healthcare.

Brands that have not traditionally played in the healthcare arena are also now immersing themselves – Microsoft, Google and Apple, to name a few. I love the infusion of the tech giants partly because it feels like validation that this is a dynamic arena. Technology is, of course, changing our experiences and relationships with our own health – from wearables, wearables becoming apparel, contact lenses that transmit data and telemedicine – and it’s also changing the face of the work.

This infusion of technology and these huge brands are making healthcare marketing more competitive. That’s almost always positive. With greater focus, higher production values, better work, better ideas, and a resurgence in pride for those working in healthcare advertising all feel more possible than ever.  

But perhaps what I loved most about the show most might be what happened after. When I returned and shared observations and examples, my colleagues – in all aspects of the business from account services to new business to creative – asked great questions and began energetically sharing thoughts and ideas. And that – after the views, culture, conversations, feast of thoughts and ideas, and, did I mention lovely rosé? – I think is the beauty of spending a few days in Cannes.