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Things we learnt at the Cannes Health Lions 2015 by Phil Bartlett


1) A year’s a long time in this business

Last year at Cannes, my Creative Director, Olly Caporn, and I half-joked that “this time next year” we’d be making our own mark. One year on and CDM London are suddenly runners up in the Cannes Health Lions Agency of the Year just behind Langland, and the driving force behind The CDM Group being named as the inaugural Cannes Health Lions Agency Network of the Year.

That’s put us on the map – it’s what we do from this point on that will be the mark of our ambition as an agency, and as Olly eloquently said to the team this week: “One swallow doesn’t make a summer”. The real trick is bringing home metal year after year like the likes of Langland (Agency of the Year title for the second year running) or my old mates at McCann Health. But yeah, it’s nice to be on the map (as well as on the stage!)


2) The US are still proportionately under-represented

The biggest market on Earth put forward some brilliant and deservedly award-winning work, but with the resource and talent pool available, really should be dominating an international awards show like this. The representation was a lot stronger than last year, but Mexico, India, Australia, Brasil, Colombia, and of course the UK all offered as much if not more. Our American cousins will come back in force next year – of that I’m sure – and I’m sure they’re as determined as anyone to show what they can do.


3) Content is king, but inspiration is Emperor

With innovation talks and smaller huddles alongside talks in the main auditorium, the overall flow of the festival content was much, much better than last year, but for the second year running it was Jeremy Perrott and McCann Health who understood the brief the best, blasting out of the blocks with an opening seminar that made the hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention. Cannes should be all about inspiration and a demand to do better, be better. That should also be the demand they put on themselves too.


4) The invention of invention

A good chunk of the shortlisted and awarded work and discussions were around product design and invention – from iron fish (Memac Ogilvy) to the Nivea Doll (FCB Brasil) to the Life-Saving Dot (Grey Group) to the entire Microsoft Collective Project (Possible Seattle). All hugely creative and extremely worthy of accolade, but occasionally it felt like we were comparing apples not against apples or even oranges but against something much less connected. Comparing Apples with a bright orange 1975 VW Camper, perhaps. Certainly It was enough for the festival to need to consider separate categories for when we’re not looking at something created by an agency, but by strands of ideas aggregated by that agency. Again, the creativity isn’t in question, but the nature of that creativity needs its own criteria and focus.


5) We won’t all have jetpacks, but we will have wearables

Many of the talks concerned the future of healthcare, and the exciting and enormous potential of wearables (and ingestibles, and insertables) to change the way healthcare is considered and delivered, and help make the essential shift from treating people when they’re sick to keeping people well.

Yet through all these discussions, I can’t help thinking of the disengaged and disenfranchised average Joe with type 2 diabetes sitting at home in Nottingham (or Nantes, or Napoli) who won’t ever buy a wearable and wouldn’t wear one if he were given it for free because he doesn’t want to know that the next pint is going to knacker his blood glucose reading (and grass him up to his GP). Because he and his like are just as important as anyone, and probably more the norm than those with a FitBit.

There is not denying that the potential is exciting, and I’m as excited as anyone about that potential – but along the way let’s be sure we’re not developing services that are more about our own frame of reference than that of the real people we’re trying to help.


6) Sometimes simplicity sings

In a world of brilliant work showing activation, invention and engagement, there was creative thinking that blew my mind. And yet the work that got CDM London a pat on the back were good old pieces of print, beautifully crafted by Olly and his team and dead, dead simple. Probably the simplest work we did all year, to be honest, immediately accessible, entirely honest and enjoyably irreverent. Even in today’s complex world, simplicity can sing out loud


7) Creativity really can change lives.

How about this for legacy: the Grand Prix winner in the Health and Wellness category – Intimate Words from Leo Burnett Mexico – literally gave women in rural Mexico the vocabulary of “intimate words” they needed to describe symptoms in women’s health (with cervical cancer the leading cause of death in females) – words that simply didn’t exist in their indigenous languages for reasons of modesty. In the shape of a beautiful book, they enabled grandmothers to talk to mothers, and mothers to children, in a way that could literally save lives – today, and tomorrow, and for long after the books themselves have crumbled and disappeared. That’s truly life-changing creativity. What an honour it is to be in the industry we’re in.


Phil Bartlett is Managing Director of CDM London, and can be contacted at In his spare time Phil enjoys re-writing his biog for credentials presentations.