CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand Win
My mom quit smoking recently, after fifty years of it. The fact that CVS is no longer selling cigarettes had nothing to do with this, of course. But the company’s decision to go smoke-free, now—a month ahead of schedule—had particular resonance with me.
Opponents of this move argue that it’s hypocritical, a stunt. They have a point—but in that case it’s a pretty expensive stunt (more than $1 billion in lost annual revenue). This is a clear example of a brand-driven business decision. In addition to pulling tobacco, CVS has changed its name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, indicating a commitment to something bigger than themselves.
So how much financial loss is CVS willing to sacrifice for a bold brand promise? Does that mean they’re pulling Frito’s and M&M’s off the shelves? (I hope not.) The store will still carry plenty of products that contribute to major health problems, so can it really be the flagship of health it’s aspiring to?
Perhaps we can forgive CVS its hypocrisy. Do we wholeheartedly believe in Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy this Jacket” campaign? Can we forgive Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, which tricked women into wearing fake beauty “patches” to prove a point? Are these really activist brands, or genius marketers?
In Dove’s case, Unilever’s VP for the brand declared that the campaign was created “to intentionally provoke a debate about women’s relationship with beauty”. As I see it, Dove creates campaigns to sell products. If, in so doing, it provokes a debate about beauty and self-esteem, I’m all for it. If Patagonia provokes a debate about sustainability, I’m all for it. If CVS provokes a debate about health and choice, then I’m all for it. We can’t whitewash away the fact that this is marketing, but these brands are indeed challenging consumers to be more educated about their choices. Perhaps it’s a better way for all of us.