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.

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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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3 worst ways to judge creative

From outside the Pharma tent, you could be forgiven for thinking it all just looks like stock-shots and poor typography created by people not talented enough to make it in the big wide consumer world.

OK, controversial start.

But you and I both know that contrary to perception there is talent in them there hills.

And even clients, if asked, will say they want good creative. And some of them even actually do.

So maybe the problem is evaluating creative correctly. If you have people who don’t really understand the mechanics of communication working for the agency, then the battle is already lost.

So with that vast assumption, I give you my top three daft creative judging criteria that can kill good ideas and make me want to kill needlessly and indiscriminately with a blunt dagger.

WILLFUL MISINTERPRETATION

or

“I know it’s an orange, but if people haven’t seen it’s an orange they might think it’s an apple”

I once worked with a female creative who had a rather annoying habit of accusing you of some slight at every turn, no matter how innocent the intent.

“Do you want another drink?”

“What are you trying to say? that I can’t buy my own drinks?”

Now somebody, somewhere, will always misinterpret something. But I tend to think that so long as 9 out of 10 interpret it as intended then a little collateral damage is sustainable.

Have you sat in a creative review like this?

” so..um…are bagels a bit negative?”

“How do you mean?”

“Because of New York”

“Is New York negative?”

“Well, I mean…as in 9/11”

“yeh, I think Mark is right..we don’t want people thinking about 9/11 in an ad for diabetes, it won’t reflect well on the brand”

“Plus a 9/11 is a car and we’re a drug”

“Good point Fran”

There is not a single ad that has ever run that you couldn’t find an obscure reason why it shouldn’t have. But if you are stretching to make negative associations you can bet your target market won’t bother making them.

The only question you should ask in this situation is:

If you were actually trying to make a statement about 9/11 would you start with a bagel?

THE UNSOLVABLE CREATIVE PROBLEM

Or

But what if nobody reads the headline?

management-trainee_48 copy

By and large, a good concept should be the perfect blend of headline and visual. (I’m sticking with print as it’s easier) If you can cover either one up and the ad still works then one of them is redundant.

The late David Abbott’s famous Economist ad ‘ I never read the Economist’ – Management trainee aged 42 – would not have been any better for seeing a tubby, balding man of 42.

And I’m pretty sure the famous Silk Cut campaign would not have been improved by a line saying ‘ the silkiest cut of them all’ or something. The visual did everything it needed to on its own.

Sometimes they face the world alone and sometimes they rely on each other to make sense. Just like the rest of us.

Meanwhile some people still think they have a serious point to make.

“But what if nobody reads the line…then it’s just a picture of a pig on a pogo stick”

“I think Gareth has a point…if I didn’t read the line I wouldn’t understand it”

That’s sort of like saying a French film was shit because you don”t speak French.

Very often, to my horror, I have found that even creative research (in pharma) seems to think the measure of a good idea is to judge it independently of a headline. And sometimes the reverse. Now, as I have said, not every idea needs both, but that shouldn’t be the only judgement. (The other thing that drives me nuts is the propensity for taking one successful line and shoving it on a totally different visual idea and assuming that is the perfect solution)

When faced with a creative problem that nobody can solve, very often there is no problem in the first place.

A NEGATIVE ISN’T ALWAYS A NEGATIVE

Or

Can we change the line from ‘smoking causes cancer’ to ‘live life to your best potential’?

I know that everyone wants to portray a positive image especially when it’s connected to a brand. But a positive image isn’t only ever attained by being positive.

No, really.

It’s not enough to employ a blanket ban when judging concepts. Like everything, there are exceptions. Sometimes showing you understand the real problem that patients face, or the new science that changes the understanding of a disease, involves communicating that carrying on prescribing the ‘old’ way is lagging behind.

I remember sitting next to a colleague at the PM awards while we watched as a certain Windsor based agency went up for the gazillionth time to collect an award for a campaign that intelligently portrayed ‘the problem’.

“I don’t get it…they’re just showing the problem…everyone has the same problem” and to a point he had a point, but if you can own that problem then you can own the solution too.

Revisiting that Economist ad, can you imagine what it would have looked like in the wrong hands?

“Yes, Dave…er…love love love the idea but it’s got a bit of a negative vibe, couldn’t we give it a bit of a switcheroo round to a positive? Like…and I’m not a creative but “I always read the Economist – Managing Director aged 16.”

Personally, I can never look at that Economist ad and not feel a twinge of guilt that I should be reading the magazine.

And isn’t that what the best ideas make us do? change our behaviour? Think? act? Negative or not.

So next time you’re wondering how to evaluate an idea remember it may be worth bearing in mind how not to judge it.

Or is that too negative?