When CSR Leads to Good Marketing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an essential part of modern PR strategy, but the difficulty in recording its return on investment leaves many businesses questioning whether CSR is worth the time, money, and commitment. CSR often fails when companies are suspected of doing it for the attention, with no compassion or real connection with the cause. The company must fully commit and have a strong tie to the issue at hand, or its lack of credibility will dilute any chance at positive results.

Today, with its announcement that it will stop selling tobacco products in its stores across the country by October 2014, CVS has turned a major CSR announcement into a brilliant marketing strategy. Without a doubt, the best CSR strategy is one that covers three important points: benefits customers, stays in line with the company’s mission, and contributes to the greater good. CVS has fulfilled all three.

While there is no doubt CVS is truly dedicated to health care, the marketing aspect of this campaign can’t be ignored. This story has become major news, and many supporters have said that it’s good to see a company put health over profits, an opinion that has been resonating across media channels. It has become, in a way, an organic advertisement, one that CVS planted the seed for and lets grow rather than spending money on traditional advertising. Organic advertising has two major advantages: it’s more credible and genuine, but most important of all, it’s free.

Transforming from convenience store to pharmacy health center, CVS is slowly changing its image in a big way. By selling tobacco, the company believes that it fights against its own mission of promoting healthy living. By cutting tobacco sales, CVS not only reinforces its credibility as a health care provider, but also embraces the idea of CSR to benefit society.

By showing commitment via a thorough campaign, CVS further strengthens its credibility. The company’s mini-site, cvsquits.com, provides a hub of information on the campaign, including their slogan (‘CVS quits for good’) and the companies modified anti-smoking logo, as well as video interviews with executives, a press release, and various facts. The campaign continues on the company’s Twitter page, with the modified logo as a new avatar and active participation with media outlets and consumers discussing the cut of tobacco sales.  By embracing social media, CVS ensures wide and immediate spread of the news.

It will be interesting to see how CVS progresses with this campaign over the next few weeks, and once the cut of tobacco sales is finally implemented this fall. Opposition is going to happen: critics say that CVS will lose significant sales by not selling such popular products, and the company admits that it expects a $2 billion drop in sales. However, $2 billion is nothing for a company that reported $123 billion in revenue in 2012. In addition, the image that CVS has created with its commitment to health care has no price tag.

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