Being a judge at Cannes is a special experience. For creative gluttons like me, it’s like binge-watching your favorite stuff—a gripping boxset of great ideas that inspire and get you thinking. This year, however, health took it to another level. The standard was so high that shortlisting—always a tough gig—was even more difficult. At the final reckoning, the winners naturally get the plaudits. They deserve it. But some great work narrowly missed out that in many other years could easily have won metal. That’s my take-home from Cannes 2022: the quality of creative in health is getting better and better.
First, the headlines. The number of entries (and winners) in both the Pharma and Health & Wellness tracks was actually down from 2021—with pharma submissions in particular falling by more than 40%. With health’s star rising rapidly at the moment, that’s something for us to think about in the months ahead. But if the categories fell short in volume, they more than made up for it in craft and innovation.
The Pharma Lions received 298 entries, dishing out two Golds, four Silvers, and four Bronzes, as well as a Grand Prix for VMLY&R New York’s “I Will Always Be Me,” a book created in partnership with Dell and Intel to help people with motor neuron disease “bank” their voice. Golds were awarded to “Eyedar,” an app that helps blind people visualize sound, and “Letters for a Law,” a campaign that challenges Chile’s stance on medical marijuana to help people living with Parkinson’s Disease.
In Health & Wellness, 1,213 entries were whittled down to seven Golds, 11 Silvers, 19 Bronzes, and one Grand Prix: VMLY&R Mumbai’s “The Killer Pack,” biodegradable packaging that kills mosquito larvae when it’s disposed of in garbage dumps, helping to curb life-threatening diseases such as malaria and dengue in India. Ogilvy Honduras’ “Morning After Island”—a campaign that highlights how Honduran women are forced into perilous journeys to access medicine that’s available everywhere else on the continent—was among the Golds.
So what does this say about creativity in health? Well, a few years ago, Cannes branded its festival as a celebration of ideas that change lives. This year’s winners, and countless others that didn’t get recognized, show there’s no better place for life-changing creativity than health. It’s why we come to work.
Beneath the headlines, a few trends stood out during my five-week marathon judging 350+ entries.
Mental health was by far the most common issue reflected in campaigns. The pandemic has undoubtedly driven this renewed focus. Seemingly every possible facet of mental health was covered in some way, inspiring some great work.
Music as a “Language”
Another clear trend was the slew of highly emotional film/video content that used music as the communications tool, rather than non-musical copy and visuals. This was particularly common in mental health where music was used as a “language” that speaks louder than words. Many campaigns used custom-composed songs as an integral part of the concept, emotively drawing you into the story to create connected health experiences. Strong examples include “Boys Do Cry” from the GOTCHA4LIFE Foundation and “Uncomposed” from White Ribbon, which includes a powerful orchestral composition that inspires men to open up.
A big focus was on how access to health can be democratized, with many intersecting with the parallel super theme of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). This included things that involved finding clever ways to overcome cultural taboos so that women can get involved in their care as well as brands creating apps that enable people of color to assess whether they should see a doctor about their skin condition. Vaseline, for example, came up with “See My Skin,” a searchable database of skin conditions represented on brown and black skin. Innovation to reduce health inequity continues to inspire hope.
Gaming continues to be a vehicle for brands to engage customers creatively, even in health. From brands using the medium to convince people to get vaccinated, all the way to focusing on the health issues created by gaming such as headaches and vision issues. We even saw NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, making their way into health to raise awareness of screening for testicular cancer. Movember’s “Non-Fungible Testicles” was a compelling way of gamifying an important issue.
Metaverse—The Theme That Never Was
One theme that I expected to see—but surprisingly didn’t—was use of the Metaverse. Brands are starting to experiment with it, but examples in health were thin on the ground. However, the most obvious example I did see shows its potential in health. Canada’s Narcotics Anonymous created an alternate universe—“NA Verse”—in which addicts can live anonymously; they can be who they are, speak their truth, and find help from their peers to overcome stigma. This application of the Metaverse translates to every aspect of health and disease, creating new opportunities to connect and grow through shared experiences. Early experiments provide an exciting glimpse of the future for health.
For sure, the interplay between tech, data, and creativity was at the heart of the very best work in health. Technology is helping us connect people with health in ways we never thought possible, and data—creative’s best friend—is giving us insight into what people are thinking, feeling, and doing. Together, they’re a tinderbox for ideas that change lives.
Cannes Lions 2022 showed us that creativity is transforming health—and our belated debut on the main stage shows the world is finally taking note. The music in health is inspiring; it’s like the soundtrack to an epic movie where the story is reaching a thrilling crescendo. Health creative is getting better and better. There’s so much to sing about—and so much more we can do. Bring on 2023.