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Thought leadership

A Week at Cannes: Creativity with a Strong Conscience

Emily Spilko, Evoke, Executive Creative Director By Emily Spilko
Executive Creative Director

As a first-time juror at Cannes Lions, you don’t know what you don’t know. The days and weeks leading up to the experience are filled with lots of questions that really can’t be answered until you see—and do—things for yourself.

Will I see eye to eye with my fellow jurors?

What does the dress code “casually smart” (plastered on every invite) really mean?

Will I return to Evoke more inspired than I left?

Now, after almost a full week in Cannes and four full days of judging, I have all the answers.

For the most part.

More casual than smart.


I leave the French Riviera with a newfound sense of hope for the work we do in the pharma space. It is undoubtedly the toughest category in which to produce strong, smart, beautiful work. We have internal challenges, client challenges, FDA challenges, and well, that’s a lot of challenges. But, this year at Cannes, I learned that our dedication and tenacity and, of course, our creativity, challenge all of that right back.

There were a few themes that stood out to me but the most prominent one was that almost every idea we reviewed embraced creativity with a strong conscience.

They were empathetic. They were inclusive. They were completely in touch with their audience. They were brave.

There was Breath of Life, the first Grand Prix in Pharma in more than four years. It was brilliant, and we couldn’t forget it from the moment we laid eyes on it. This very simple mobile tool put the diagnosis of COPD into the hands of thousands and thousands of people who can be tough to reach, let alone motivate. And it did it through the power of a traditional form of Chinese art. Don’t you wish you did that? I sure do.

There was One Word, a completely unexpected and captivating journey that has an ending you never see coming, but when you do, it all comes together—giving you a powerful look into the true struggle people with brain trauma live with.

There was the UFOlogist, a radio spot (yes radio!), that sent a powerful, and quite hilarious, message about the importance of vaccinations.

There was As Much as I Can, a live experience that took place in cities where black, gay men are most affected by HIV. To say the stigma for these men is high is a massive understatement. They are alienated by their places of worship, their communities, their families. This immersive live event toured several cities, such as Jackson, Mississippi and Baltimore, Maryland, making the audience part of the story and giving them more than a front-row seat to the struggle these men go through. To see a group take on this topic with such bravery—where it is needed most—was humbling.

And those are just a few. I know that we don’t always have the opportunity to do work like the examples mentioned above. But we have to do a better job of knowing when those opportunities arise and we need to jump on them and raise them up and push for them—and keep pushing for them—until they are released out into the world.