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)

 

 

 

 

 

Haute couture on the Cotes d’azure

Arriving last weekend at Cannes Lions I was struck by the level of new technology and interactivity on show.

In real time, you can interact with 3-dimensional people and experience what looks like an actual talker talking on a stage about social media, while you yourself can actually be on social media.

#amazing!

I know I was waving my arms around like an idiot trying to touch things that were in front of my face before Phil told me that they actually were in front of my face.

VR can be confusing.

On Saturday morning most of the London creative fraternity were busy experiencing a virtual reality ‘hangover’ that accurately represented the clawing fug and pain of ‘going large’ on the first night.

It’s amazing what can be done these days.

Meanwhile the awards were the talking point around most of the ‘interactivity pods’ conveniently located in nearby restaurants.

The usual concerns of the work being ‘nothing like what we actually do day to day’ seemed to be a recurring theme again this year.

But does it matter?

Not for me.

There are plenty of awards systems around the world that honour the work we do every day, but what Cannes offers, much like Paris in the Spring and Autumn, is a glimpse of the unattainable.

Think of the work we celebrate on the Croisette like the Haute Couture shows of Paris, Milan, London and New York that parade the ludicrous, the outrageous, the frocks that look like biscuits and the shorts made of concrete – in the name of fashion.

These are not clothes for anyone to actually wear.

Nobody goes around in a pair of trousers that look like two wet fish, but what happens slowly over the course of the year is that fishscale styling appears, biscuit emblems on T-shirts emerge and concrete looking fabric creeps in to the high street.

Cannes is about inspiration. And that’s to be applauded. Who cares if it’s all a bit dodgy?

One CD from Brasil that I was chatting to said he knew of a winning campaign that the agency devised two weeks before the closing date, found a client and got it to run. (does any work actual ‘run’ anymore?)

What he really meant was they got some people to try it out, filmed them using it, put it on twitter and got some PR around it. That’s ‘running’ these days.

So be it. Maybe we all need to play the game. Ideas have transcended traditional media across the advertising landscape. If you are still doing old fashioned branded ad campaigns you are effectively ruling yourself out of the gongs.

My advice to you is get some cool technology and find a way to link it with your brand. Rembrandt and Banking, its an obvious connection. Rembrandt was a painter and the banks now own all his work.

Okay that’s the positive.

What about the less than positive. ( 5 years in healthcare and the word negative has been beaten out of me)

It’s the weasling notion of the ‘healthification of everything.’

I know it sounds cool and inclusive, but hold on a bloody buggering moment.

I don’t care about consumer agencies muscling in, let them come, but what constitutes a health care or wellness campaign these days?

Surely it should be about the target market?

One excellent campaign was for a paint brand that linked colour to colour-blindness. They made a set of glasses that ‘cured’ people’s affliction. (more accurately – ‘appropriated’)

Fair enough you may think, that’s healthcare.

But if they are targeting the colour-blind as a target market in its own right it seems a rather small market for a paint manufacturer.

Like a pill sold by Stella Artois that reproduces the effects of a hangover for the tee-total, so they can feel as shit as the rest of us on a Sunday morning. They’re still not buying any pints.

(In fact I may pitch that to them)

What is more likely, and even admirable from an advertising point of view, is that they are using the glasses to be inspiring about colour. But let’s be honest here, in so doing they are….well, just flogging paint.

And fair play to them, but fuck off and do it in the consumer categories!

Surely a healthcare campaign, be it from a consumer agency or not should be defined by its attempt to target a patient or HCP market?

The healthification of everything could, by a more cynical blogger than myself, become just a backdoor entry to the Lions Health awards by any old product that can find a quasi-medical angle.

Cars with auto-parking: save lives. Bottles of water: cure dehydration. The lawnmower: reduces hayfever. The Bluetooth speakers: Reduce wire based accidents in the home.

Nevertheless, this is all mere trifles.

I continue to find Cannes inspiring, infuriating and challenging in equal measures.

So what is still the real challenge of lions health?

A Grand Prix from a branded pharma campaign. Or is that just insane?

If so, I could probably enter the entry in some category for mental health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cecil the cyber Lion.

So, whatever you think about Cecil’s tragic and untimely demise, one thing is for sure, so-called ‘hunters’ might now think twice about loading up the old crossbow and rifle and heading off to needlessly slaughter our finest and most magnificent species for their own amusement.

Lord knows something needed to be done to stop the constant outraged social media posts featuring men and women sitting on endangered species with a gun and a stupid grin.

So, ironically, it might even be a positive thing.

In fact it’s the kind of thing some Zimbabwean ad agency could submit as a case history at next years Cannes. (Animal health section).

Imagine the case study.

The problem? Rich American businessmen were totally ignoring the plight of endangered species and continuing to shoot much loved wild animals for their own amusement and trophy cabinet in the mistaken belief it was still 1908.

Our strategy? make hunting African wildlife seem not worth the risk.

So we took hidden cameras and a team of ‘actors’ disguised as gamekeepers and agreed to lure a lion from it’s protected park to a place where our ‘mark’ would shoot him, manfully, with a crossbow.

But it wasn’t just any old lion, this was Cecil, the most famous lion in Zimbabwe!

But we didn’t tell our hunter that…one lion looks much like another and what did he care?

Only one day later and we posted the death of Cecil on social media sites.

Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage!

Next we released the name of the American dentist who we duped in to killing this beautiful creature.

Walter Palmer.

Twitter went through the roof, and our dentist went in to hiding when we organised a demonstration outside his dental practice. Worldwide coverage followed on all the major TV channels.

There’s nothing like a death threat to encourage behaviour change.

Next we started a petition to have our ‘hunter’ deported to Zimbabwe to face trial. 140,000 online signatures and the President has to make a response.

Now ‘hunters’ are thinking twice before considering mercilessly killing endangered species for their own fun.

The case history film finishes to a standing ovation, and the CD & MD from the agency in Harare head for the stage to pick up their trophy.

Those Cannes juries love nothing more than an idea that changes behaviour.

Especially those over-paid, mindless, cowardly dentists.

 

 

A typical day in pharmaland (part 2)

The trouble with satire is that it can be a rather blunt tool.

So I think it is worth writing a short postscript to what has been a rather successful edition, if judged by visitors alone, of my last blog. (thanks for visiting)

It just shows that controversial works. Some people thought it rather harsh, which wasn’t actually my intention. (Well, maybe a little…just for the mischief of it)

And it wouldn’t be the first time an idea of mine has been taken the wrong way.

So I feel it’s worth stating that I categorically love lions health. I think it is inspirational and prestigious and a shot in the arm for our sometimes forgotten corner of advertising.

I am not backtracking.

My point, such as it was, is still valid.

And that point, for those who thought the acidity was somewhat obfuscating, was that the work that won was (by and large) remarkably removed from what we all do day to day.

I know you all know this but you know, some people may not have.

Every conversation I had with agency people in Cannes seemed to revolve around this one point. Great work, but people saw no reflection of the work that they do, day in and day out for Pharma clients.

Now, does that mean we should all feel dejected and give up entering actual product work and only go for the pro-bono cool stuff?

Quite the opposite.

And do I feel the juries at Cannes should reward mediocre work just because that’s what most clients want and that’s what we mostly do all week?

Not at all.

I guess what I was trying to say was that the real challenge is in the mundane. How do we make those detail aids sing? How do we create HCP portals that transcend the ordinary? How can that next banner ad be the next Gold?

Is that even possible?

By all means if that brief to empower women lands on your desk, go for it. By all means if that extraordinarily worthwhile task of helping the health of Mexican communities lands on your desk, grasp it with both hands. There’s your chance to win big, don’t cock it up.

But let’s not forget the real test of whether pharma agencies deserve to sit at the same table as our swanky consumer cousins is whether we can elevate the everyday, the mundane, the boring.

Make that extraordinary and you will inspire an entire industry to improve.

 

(Maybe I should have just written this version instead)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A short guide to Lions Health (not a veterinary category)

The glorious month of June is upon us once more and sur la Croisette the Rose is being chilled, the pavements are being hosed down and the sea is reaching the correct temperature for midnight swims in soggy underwear.

Mentioning no names, ahem..

Dear reader, will you be joining the thirsty adfolk from around the healthcare world in Cannes this year?

If so, and this is your first time at Lions Health, here is my unofficial guide to the two or three days in the sun or darkened hell hole, depending if you are visiting or judging.

1. Firstly, getting from Nice Airport to Cannes: There are taxis at around 75-80 euros one way, and take about 40 minutes, during which you will wonder why your driver is taking you the ‘back way’. That’s because it isn’t the back way, it’s the front way and that’s what roads in South of France look like.

2. Some important new information. This year the awards are on the Friday night, which is preceded by an informal drinks. This ‘pre-lash’ theory, pioneered by British students in order to save money on alcohol when out on the town and thereby effectively precluding themselves from entering any establishment worth visiting, will hopefully add an air of raucous jeering and/or applause to the awards ceremony.

3. The actual awards gala party on the beach bash is still on the Saturday night. This has the benefit of winners not having to lug their ‘lions’ around all night. This is also bad news for winners who like to lug their awards around all night in the hope that people will notice them and be suitably impressed.

4. The seminars all happen in the Palais de Festival. It’s the big white building at one end of the Croisette. My rather obvious advice is to plan which talks you want to attend, it’s unlikely that every session will appeal but you never know. It is obligatory to not pay much attention to them and spend the entire time tweeting on your iPad about how much you are or are not enjoying the talk. The good news is that if you are feeling slightly peeky from the previous night’s Rose, the auditorium is rather nice and cool and with comfy seats so you can have a decent snooze. Make sure you have your iPad on your lap and no one will be able to tell you apart from the tweeters.

5. Just so as you know, whichever talk you choose to attend you will inevitably be a little ho-hum about and the one you didn’t fancy – well, let’s just say you will stand by helplessly as people stream out, gasping for breath at the wonderousness of the insight and the sheer dazzling genius of the inspirational talkers…claiming it was a life changing experience.

There is no way round this, it’s just cleverly planned that way.

6. A couple of sessions that caught my eye are these two. This first one should be interesting to see if they have the magic solution.

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Secondly, it seems Mr Perrot always likes to get a degree of Hollywood blood and guts in the McCANN sessions. Count me in.

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7. If you are in a big party, or you have colleagues from different worldwide offices you will spend most of the time asking ‘where’s everybody going’ or ‘what’s everybody doing tonight?’. The only thing you can guarantee is that the gutter bar will be the final destination before crashing at 3am.

8. The gutter bar isn’t actually called the gutter bar but it’s outside the Martinez and is essentially a small aluminium fronted cafe that has room for about 12 people. Don’t ask me why it has become synonymous with Cannes advertising festival, and particularly the London contingent, it just has and it’s the law to show up there. No buts.

9. If you are a judge, be prepared to not see any daylight for the entire time and then, rather ungraciously, be lambasted for the final decision on the awards by hundreds of disgruntled creatives. Although the honour of being asked is compensation enough for this.

10. Lastly, the ladies on the croisette, as you stagger back from the gutter bar at 3am, are not COOs asking if you want to buy a company.

Enjoy.

PMs Question time.

Here in London the PM awards are almost upon us and people are frantically dry-cleaning their shiny suits and their not-too-glam-for-lunchtime-frocks and preparing to cut short, by a day, Dry January.

Now:

This won’t come as that much of a shock but these annual awards have rather a low level of credibility within the creative cognoscenti, but like all creative shows they maintain a distinct brand and that, if nothing else, is important to acknowledge.

Charlize Theron

A guest arriving at the PM Society awards luncheon at the Grosvenor house

A few months back a group of Creative Directors from every county of Pharmaland were all invited to the IPA to discuss, over some wine and good food, how the Best of Health awards could maintain it’s integrity and raison d’etre now that Cannes had loomed in to frame as the benchmark for excellence and international debauchery.

Did the Best of Health still have a role?

This displayed at least an understanding of the fragile credibility that all award shows have.

Almost unanimously the feeling was that it did still have a place, but that the dynamic had to change a little. The end result of much Merlot fueled (by the end of the evening) debating was several good ideas, (some terrible ones too) one of which was to move the date of the event so as not to compete with Cannes head on.

While we were chewing over the general status of the awards spectrum the subject turned to our old friend the PMs.

1387655421_Mad-Friday-Binge-drinking_2

The same guest four hours later

As I said, within the creative community they are almost universally regarded with a degree of disdain. (creatives are such tarts)

But there it is.

Creatives generally prefer a system whereby if the standard of work isn’t good enough, no award is given. This has to be coupled with judges that have credibility too, otherwise all is lost. Together this makes an award all the more coveted and it has worked well for D&AD and the other top shows.

Because if you have to vote a winner then potentially you have to pick the best of a bad bunch. But the PMs are alone in standing by the ethos of awarding the best of what was entered that year and having a mix of client and creatives as judges.

And you must award a gold, silver and bronze for each category. Because people pay a lot of money to enter and there’s nothing worse than an awards ceremony with no winners. From an awards show point of view I have some sympathy with that, I must say.

Imagine if you showed up to the Oscars and they just agreed that no one made the mark that year. Rather stuffs the after show parties doesn’t it?

And there you have it. To me, the PM’s focus is almost entirely around the event itself. You could pretty much have a luncheon at the Grosvenor House and have no awards at all and a couple of comics with much the same result, albeit with less of a budget for the organisers and not as much gnashing of teeth from the disgruntelcenti.

The point is not whether the PMs serve creative director egos or reward creativity but whether they have a business value or not.

And undeniably, for most agencies, and especially the ones aiming to get a foothold, they do. They still get you noticed within our overall client base.

Creatively excellent or not.

So, like it or not, most agencies still want to win one. With some notable exceptions.

By now it is no secret that Langland have withdrawn from entering this year.

There are several, understandable, possible reasons.

1. It could be that the PMs have just become too small and that their individual worth to the most awarded Healthcare agency in the world just isn’t worth enough. Cannes is now quite a glittering bauble and by comparison the PMs are like a parochial non league football trophy.

2. It could also be because if you are the most awarded healthcare agency in the world that takes a lot of cash to spend every year entering every show going and sometimes you have to prioritize.

Fair enough.

3. They’re simply letting someone else have a go.

But whatever the reason, the PM awards are poorer for Langland’s absence.

And they’re not alone, Frontera also choose to exclude themselves from the PMs.

Only the awards themselves will prove whether the standard has slipped dramatically with the top teams absent.

So the PMs tread a fine line.

On one hand they need an element of creative credibility, to keep the entries coming. On the other hand, they need to not be so up themselves that smaller less creative agencies and bigger less creative clients think it’s still worth entering work and showing up for the lunch.

But the question remains: No matter how good your work, who wants to win Wimbledon in the year that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal didn’t bother entering?

So, will Langland continue it’s success without the PMs? undoubtedly.

The bigger question might be what is the PMs without Langland, Frontera et al?

Back at the IPA dinner we all agreed on one thing.

The PMs don’t care about newcomers like Cannes, they’ll carry on regardless because what they offer is popular and has a clear role within the business – and like those comb-over comics from the 70’s, doing gags about mother-in-laws, they couldn’t give a flying fuck what the trendy alternative comics are up to in that there London.

And we all know what happened to them.

See you all on Friday. Chin Chin!

 

 

 

The Healthcare world cup and a level playing field.

 

Me and Phil in Cannes

Me and Phil in Cannes

Having just returned from Cannes after two days of toe curling, interesting, a couple of dead boring and a few truly inspiring seminars, plus an awards ceremony that sent a very clear message to the world of pharma agencies, my over all impression is this:

Finally we get our own world cup, the top teams won with outstanding work, but the pitches need some work.

With all due respect to the Globals and the RX awards, and especially the PM awards here in the UK, this is bigger, better and tough as hell to win.

I’ll be honest, over the years my enthusiasm for awards has waned, I know it’s important to an extent, and I still like winning them and judging them but it all just seems a bit tiresome to be concerned with.

But let me tell you ladies and gents I want a Gold lion, I want that Grand Prix.

For anyone unfamiliar with the set-up there were two juries, one for pharma and one for wellness. It seemed that the pharma lot may have been a bit harsher but I don’t think the wellness team let the side down. There was great work on show and I for one came away with a renewed sense of determination to take on the big guys.

But anyone looking at the work selected from a geographic point of view might notice a worrying bias.

Having spoken to some of the jurors, there was a lot of work entered from the USA, as you would expect. However, as one of the most regulated territories, that comes with some harsh legal requirements.

By all accounts the minute what the Americans call ‘fair balance’ began at the end of the TV spots (all the stuff when the VO says that ‘this may cause anal bleeding and you could turn in to a Zebra’ etc) the jurors winced and pressed the eject button.

Now for an elitist awards jury briefed to pick work that rivals the consumer version of Cannes, that is understandable.

On the other hand you could argue that in a specially devised healthcare awards the conditions that we create work in might be understood or forgiven or at the very least allowed for, it’s part of the regulations and there is simply nothing they can do about it.

Now clearly a truly global awards system needs the USA to be a player.

The fact that Brasil, Japan and Australia fared better than most is no comment on the standard of the work on show, the winners deserved to win, but it’s hard to compete with one hand tied behind your back.

So either the Americans should be allowed to re-edit for awards or the jurors asked to disregard the legal or a huge chunk of the industry’s work will simply not show up next year and that can’t be healthy.

After all, the idea is there to be judged not the regulatory system.

That said, Langland won agency of the year and the UK is strongly regulated, and Canada had some success and their regulations make the US seem like well, Brasil.

Perhaps, like football, it’s about finding space to play in.

As far as the punditry goes the seminars were a mixed bag. But one in particular caught my eye and squished my pupil till it hurt.

It was hosted by FCB (a major USA sponsor of the festival who came away with nothing)  and the talk was about attracting new talent to the industry.

Now I’ll skip the toe curling graduate writer who encouraged us all to tell people that “we do go out for drinks and we’re not just all geeks and ‘lame'”

Well thanks Missy for that endorsement, I feel so much cooler now.

But the level playing field extends to the whole industry on this topic.

Apparently 90% of all creative students say they would only choose pharma over consumer if that was the only choice left to them.

90%? who are we being left with?

So the talent coming in to the industry is by and large less like World cup standards and more like the Conference league and that should be a worry for us all if we’re all going to be playing at the top level.

The other comment on the same seminar was from Rich Levy, chief creative officer at FCB health. A clearly smart, creative and eloquent man.

“The goal is for there to be just one Cannes…no segregation”

The problem with that as a goal, apart from missing the point spectacularly, is that Health deserves it’s own awards not because it can’t play with the big boys but we are the big boys and this is our awards. If we want to be seen as equal we have to act equal, they should be wanting to win at our awards.

The consumer lot can go fuck themselves.

I’m not sure that’s the official line but you get my drift.

Can you imagine what a group of consumer creatives would make of the stuff we do? My one reservation about the ‘Creative floor’ awards is just that. To quote a tweet from Andrew Spurgeon: “It was carnage”

I’m not surprised, and frankly I don’t need consumer creatives to judge my work to validate it.

On Saturday night a few of us Englishmen left the party early to watch the football in a small extremely hot bar. Next to us were a table full of Italians and it was all good-natured cheering and football banter, descending in to foulmouthed expletives and drunken misery until the final whistle.

England played well, but ultimately came away with nothing.

Well, if you want to compete at the highest level, it’s clear playing well will only get you so far.

http://http://www.lions-health.com/winners/2014/