The LIA awards get Healthy.

Back in May I received one of those emails you cannot ignore. “Dear Olly, we would like you to be a judge in the inaugural Health and Wellness category at the LIA (London International) awards in Las Vegas in October.”

Hotels and flights paid for.

Hmm, let me think for a moment.

To be honest, the LIA awards could have been judging the Lactose-free Inkjet Awards or the Lazy Imbecile Awards and I would still have signed up.

Leaving aside, for the moment, why an awards show that has resided in the middle of a Nevada desert for the last ten years is called the London International Awards, it did seem like an opportunity too good to miss.

Pharma and Health and Wellness continues to come of age, thanks in no small part to the likes of our Jury President – Jeremy Perrott, Global Chief Creative Officer at McCann Health, pushing our often reluctant industry in to the limelight where it belongs. The LIA awards are another step to being part of the genuine adland gang.

Indeed Healthcare is where the action is these days.

The glee of this invitation lasted right up until this week when the tragic shooting took place and turned the town known for its partying and freedom of spirit in to a bloodbath.

I cannot write about the relatively frivolous activity of judging creative work without mentioning it, because as these events often do, it puts everything momentarily in to perspective.

Anyway, let’s hope America gets a short break before the next NRA funded terror attack happens.

And so it is I found myself last Wednesday in a cab driving past the shimmering Mandalay Bay hotel travelling through a town with 30 degree heat, to sit in a darkened room for three days looking at some of the best work in health and wellness over the last 18 months.

So why do we need another awards show?

Well, what the LIAs isn’t about is huge cabannas on the beach with tech company logos dominating the skyline. It’s not a trade show, indeed it’s not even an awards show in the traditional sense.

The LIAs is palpably about creative awards, celebrating ideas and new innovative thinking ( they dropped the ‘advertising’ from the awards title in 2004 to recognise how the business had changed).  Set up by the founder of the Clios, Barbara Levy, the money from your entries goes in to funding young creatives and account people to come to Las Vegas and learn from the big names across the industry. It’s putting something back, which has to be admired.

Isn’t that better than an international show where no international people show up to collect their award and everyone just gets wasted?

Ok don’t answer that.

It’s aim is to be a genuine rival to Cannes (in terms of kudos at least) and if the level of judging is anything to go by, it already is.

Our first day was pretty brutal. I’ll take you through the deal.

Seven judges from around the world, including Japan, Sydney, Sau Paulo and Toronto with around 240 Health and Wellness entries to separate, the first task was to sort the wheat from the chaff. A large screen displays the entries and we are furnished with a small ipod with an in, out or abstain choice for each hopeful. First day is no talking, just watching.

After ten hours of tinkling piano and ernest voice overs you emerge in to the desert twilight suffering from compassion fatigue. What might have seemed an appropriate peice of music for a heart wrenching story when you were editing your case film a few weeks ago now seemlessly joins up with the next case film and the next heart wrenching story producing an end result that is like watching a sort of eight hour long, disjointed Swedish Independent film.

Day two comes and some discussion creeps in. The ipods now have a numbered scoring system which you mark from 1 to 10 depending on your affection for the concept.

The cut off point is arbitrary to an extent but we began by looking at everything that got above 60% with the ability to ‘rescue’ any forgotten or overlooked soldiers.

It then becomes clear who has a passion for what. I’d say generally most people agree on the big stuff, the zingers. It gets harder to agree when the work is just really good. Is that animation good but the idea a bit unoriginal? Does that campaign belong in the same gang as the others in its category? Does that endline let it down? Is this just a cool looking film but with a flimsy idea at its heart?

At some award shows you are desperately looking for something half decent to award, here – as in Cannes, the half decent doesnt get a look in.

By the end of day two we managed to get a good shortlist narrowed down. Then the next task was to choose what would medal and what wouldn’t.

It’s amazing how long this stuff takes. Personally, when I judge I want to be my own devils advocate and ask the questions that might expose a leak where other campaigns are watertight.

These tiny flaws are what make the difference between Gold Silver or Bronze. Sometimes it might be whether the intent of a great film is actually met. For instance it might be a stunning commercial but does it work as a fund raising machine as intended? It might be an incredible peice of innovation but does it have a legitimate role. Conversely, does it matter if the idea is hard to detect but the work moves me anyway?

Day three was a totally new experience.

The organisers wanted the aforementioned junior creatives and account handlers ( aged between 21 and 30) to sit in on the session when we chose the medal winners.

So about 30 fresh faced young’uns shuffled in and sat quietly (almost) for the whole day as we debated and voted.

I’ll admit that this was a bit weird for probably all of us. But after a while it became a bit like a viewing gallery in a surgical theatre, you just got on with the work and the debating.

It’s also fair to say that at first these whippersnappers also were not that keen on observing a health and wellness jury. I mean, who on earth wants to join a healthcare agency right?

Who wants healthcare briefs when they could be selling sugar to children?

Well, if nothing else I can honestly say that the work selected as winners in our category proved to be as stunning and inspiring as any consumer category at any show anywhere in the world.

One kiddiwink even admitted at the end of the question and answer section that she felt so impressed at the kind of work that’s possible that she had to apologise to us for her initial, albeit silent, prejudice.

But then that’s how we all feel isn’t it?

From the outside our business just looks like a bunch of press ads with headlines about tolerability and efficacy doesn’t it?

Ok, don’t answer that.

But from the inside the jury room at the LIAs, Health is looking more and more like the most exciting gig in town.

Check out the winners in November and the shortlist published here, and start thinking about getting involved for next year.

Because the LIAs have arrived and for the first time, what happens in Vegas, isn’t staying there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Releasing the Lions.

So the week is over, and Lions Health is a distant Rose-tinted memory.

It’s been a weird period with the new CEO of Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, risking pissing off his entire creative workforce by pulling out from entering Cannes 2018 or indeed any awards, in order to spend money on an internal collaboration tool called ‘Marcel’.

The nations headhunters just got a whole new bunch of candidates.

To me it just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of creatives, and the point of awards in general, let alone Cannes.

But let’s not forget there was a whole heap of griping from the world’s Healthcare agencies about how the whole Lions Health event is unrepresentative of what we do and therefore why should we bother?

So let’s explore that.

I’ve given myself a little time for the whole thing to sink in before immediately rushing out a strongly worded blog, because, having slept on it, it’s not as easy as just saying that the awards are irrelevant to what we do every day. It’s my belief that they serve a higher purpose than just representing the best of our day to day briefs. They do inspire and the high bar is there for a reason.

Nevertheless, something is wrong when Healthcare agencies are squeezed out of their own award show.

In the Health and Wellness category, the consumer agencies marched in like Hells Angels at a teenage house party then they undid their flies and whopped a driving safety campaign out on the kitchen work top.

Put a more delicate way, it was like watching Torquay United play Real Madrid.  To quote my imaginary Torquay manager’s post match interview, “We could have had a chance if we could have just gotten the ball”.

(The analogies are pouring out of me today!)

In other words it’s hard to compete with the awesome effects of a milk advert and the impressive blend of science and art of ‘Graham’  if you don’t get those briefs.

If you think I’m being alarmist, out of the 80 pieces that won guess how many were specialists in Healthcare?

Two.

It was more of a warm up for them and easy points for their CEO dick measuring competitions, so the word around town was pretty much that that category was now lost to our big budget consumer brethren and you’d be mad to enter anything in it.

Which Lions Health should be concerned about, but Pharma agencies need to be canny with their precious entry budgets.

The H&W category had something like two and a half thousand entries and Pharma had around 600.

So could Pharma come to our rescue? show some much needed reflection of our day jobs?

Well, of course all the agencies that did win were from pockets of Pharmaland but there were only a handful of actual branded pharma clients. The Pro-Bono gang (another motorcycle gang but with smarter jeans and Japanese made bikes) had moved in and the more ethnic and third-world the plight that the idea was solving, the more brilliant the idea.

The most awarded campaign in the Pharma category was “The Immunity Charm” – created by McCann Health New Delhi for The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Afghanistan.

It was a simple creative solution that harnessed a long-standing cultural tradition of new born babies wearing lucky bracelets. The coloured beads on the bracelets were then used as a communication system between HCPs as to what inoculations the child had had and it provided mothers with a powerful new incentive to get their children vaccinated.

No one can deny that it was a worthy winner. Except it didn’t win the Grand Prix. Why? because it was a public health campaign and as such ineligible.

But why no branded work? A good friend of mine was on the jury and according to her the quality ‘just wasn’t there’.

It’s always going to be hard to compare simply improving sales of a drug to a device or programme that saves lives. (Check out Area 23’s Trafficking concept) but surely there is a possibility that we can do that kind of work?

So is it right that we all stand around at the gutter bar feeling disillusioned? Who can we blame? The clients? The regulations? The budgets? The PI? The HCPs themselves?

Well maybe, it’s all of these other factors. But Lions Health will always get my support.

I think of it this way: Bear with me.

I once tried for a job at Gold Greenless Trott, back in the 80’s. I’ve mentioned Dave Trott before and his influence over a generation of creatives. Read his blogs if you get a chance.

We took our book in to see a CD there, called Paul Grubb. He liked one thing in our book, so told us to go away and do another book in a week.

In a week? this book had taken us three months!

Anyway we worked morning noon and night and duly returned to see him the following week.

He liked two things. He told us to go away and do it again.

Again? Jesus. Well, we really wanted a job there so we knuckled down again.

We struggled but returned the following week and he looked at the work and said he liked a couple of things.

So what then?

Yup, a third week ensued.

But the fourth time we went there, he simply said ‘congratulations, you’ve now got a really good book and you should get a job somewhere soon.’ We felt duped but…

He was right, we had and pretty soon we did.

And that’s how we need to see Lions Health. It’s a different game at this level. Our ‘nice for pharma’ won’t cut it anymore.

If we have one eye on the standard that is required to win, before we submit that work to a client, it might just give you a different parameter to judge it by and thereby even improve the industry’s work as a whole, hang the awards…the clients will benefit won’t they?

We might have to work harder to get that client to buy it, and we might have to work harder to get the budget to make it. But that’s what it takes in any agency.

In the end what no one wants to consider is that we don’t have the chops to win in our own awards show.

So, what are going to do?

Withdraw or up our game?

 

 

 

 

(By the way, GGT did offer us a job about three years later, which we turned down because we couldn’t afford to start again from the bottom…one of the big regrets of my career)

 

 

 

 

 

Is Pharmaland a one way ticket?

I recently had a phone conversation with a Creative guy who was uncertain about a move to a CD role in Pharmaland.

He had some legitimate concerns.

Would he be forever labelled as a ‘pharma-creative’ with all the mediocrity that that would imply. Could he ever get back in to consumerland after having the ‘Pharma stink’ on his clothes?

He didn’t put it like that but it’s what he meant.

I remember from my days in consumer the disdain that all self-respecting-ATL creatives had at the time for the lower divisions.

By the lower divisions I mean the BTL lot, the Direct lot, the Digital lot, the global lot.

You know…what all creatives are nowadays.

It wasn’t overt, but when a creative left to join a healthcare agency there was always the same reaction, a mixture of pity and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-like thankfulness it wasn’t you (yet). Like the scene in THE GREAT ESCAPE where the little Scottish guy runs at the fencing shouting “I cannee take it any more!!!” before getting gunned down by the guards.

We looked up, nodded them a farewell and returned solemnly to our desks writing ideas that would never make it beyond a special account handling department file labelled ‘Meeting fodder‘.

This was the life!

As I spoke with my new consumer-creative acquaintance I even surprised myself with my now solidified passion for Pharma, now that there is clear water between my old career and this one, it seems I have gone native.

And what’s worse, I don’t even care.

Because what’s so great about consumer these days? have you seen the work that is on our outdoor posters recently? have you watched a TV break? when was the last time you asked anyone if they saw ‘that ad’ last night.

Believe it or not, that used to happen a lot.

Sadly, the most memorable ad of late is probably the diabolical Pepsi debacle.

Maybe the ‘content pieces’ that seem to emerge from somewhere or other and find their way on to your Facebook page are all that’s left of a once heavily populated ocean of opportunities, deftly avoiding months of focus groups and re-briefs. Occasionally there is the odd socially motivated film that gets shared, about how we should all just get along and have a beer (insert brand). That kind of thing. Fair enough.

There are some great humanitarian campaigns about empowering girls, or teaching the world to read.

I’m sure there are some other great campaigns but I can’t really remember them.

So, I wonder why a consumer advertising career is still attractive to a young creative person. It’s now much more about tactical thinking, direct targeting and content platforms than it is about launching new brands to the world. That’s much like Pharma, but we still get to launch brands all the time.

And consumer-land isn’t even much of a haven for heavy drinkers anymore.

These days many of the restrictions and legal limitations that a consumer brand faces are similar to those in healthcare, at least creatively speaking. No use of clever language please, no regional in-jokes etc because the world wants global ideas.

(Customers don’t want or need global ideas, but corporations do.)

Ok, so Pharma has a bunch more self-imposed restrictions than just that but the creative opportunities, when they arise, are just as potent.

It’s all about what you do, as a creative, with those opportunities. And recognising them as such in the first place.

Okay, you counter –  it’s the clients and target markets that are worse in Pharmaland. They’re very literal and unsophisticated (never understood why) and obviously consumer clients are more media-savvy and braver.

Can they be any worse than whoever insisted upon or bought and signed off these attempts? It seems now its quicker to bypass creative teams and go straight from brief to production.

So much for the un-shackled glamour and creative opportunities of a career in consumer. At least in Pharmaland there are no pack shots, (just big logos) to substitute for an idea.

Anyway, back to my creative guy: I just heard he accepted the job. Good for him.

He’ll find that Pharmaland isn’t a land devoid of budgets, cool people or creativity.

There are some cool people and creativity.

Ok, definitely creativity.

Occasionally.

And if it is a one way ticket, then that suits me fine.

 

 

When you avoid offending anyone, you offend everyone.

One of the things that separates creatives from mere mortals, (I jest) is the ability to finally accept that your idea didn’t fly with good grace and resilience.

Nobody understood it.

Nobody liked it.

You could never afford to do it.

It had been done before.

”Don’t worry I’ll think of something else.”

All those things are hard to accept but they pale in comparison to having got your idea through and produced and then hating it.

The worst disappointment is having spent a year on a project, done three rounds of pitching, two rounds of research, fought tooth and nail for the right budget and director, photographer or animator – tried to accommodate everyone’s opinions and then when you see it you just go, ‘oh crap’.

Your heart sinks, maybe not because its awful, maybe just because it’s okay. But mostly because it really wasn’t what you started out believing it could be.

You thought it would be funnier, you thought it would be cooler. You thought, you thought, you thought.

You just hope no one notices it and it passes without incident or damage to your career.

That’s why I just feel rather sorry for the makers of the now infamous Pepsi ad. Most of us in advertising have made a turkey, myself more than most but this one was the ‘Heavens gate’ of cock-ups.

This Saturday Night Live skit, summed it up perfectly. The initial enthusiasm of the creative ( here they lump the director and creatives in to one easy to digest character) being thumped down to earth when the reality of the purile concept and all the compromises he’s allowed to happen hits him.

Because making a good commercial is hard.  That’s why agencies fight to get the best talent. It’s why good creatives can be seemingly unreasonable. Contrary to popular sentiment that ‘everyone is a creative’  making a spot that captures the imagination of the public is about more than just heaping a bunch of lame socially current imagery in to a nicely shot film and hoping for the best.

I’m not really sure in this day and age of multiple research rounds etc how no one commented that this was a pile of shit?

Maybe in the concept stage it was easier to fudge and promise this arguably noble ambition of ‘bringing together of cultures and world peace’ in a storyboard.

A bit like when you have a really funny story in your head and when you start to tell it out loud to your friends they stare at you non plussed and all you have to offer is a meek ‘well…er…you had to be there’.

Being unreasonable stops this kind of disaster.

Maybe it even started out as a black lives matter script.

Maybe it featured a black woman, perhaps the real Leisha Evans from the Jonathan Bachman photo taken at the Baton Rouge protest, maybe they envisioned it as gritty and urban but also simple and genuine.

It would still have been on dodgy ground because appropriation of serious issues by a soft drink (and not even the one that is best placed to make this kind of ad) is a minefield, obviously.

Then, after the first presentation, all sorts of people from clients to consumers to consultants started commenting:

Does it have to be an angry march?

We think it’s too much black lives matter? 

Can’t we have smiley faces? make it about ‘the conversation’?

What about some cool dancers to appeal to the kids?

And we want to be inclusive, one of the heroins should be a muslim girl.

I think a Cello could add some class, it’s all rather street isn’t it?

Just so many deaths by a thousand cuts that it ended up being a long way from that first idea.

And no amount of money or celebrities could save it.

But the final film was just so fake, so contrived and emasculated to avoid offending anyone, it offended everyone.

In my experience being polarising can be a good thing, if you aren’t upsetting the applecart a little then you’re doing something wrong.

Just don’t destroy the whole orchard.

I’m being generous of course, it could have just been this God-awful crap from start to finish.

The only consolation is that there’s always another brief and a chance to redeem yourself.

You hope.