February 6, 2014
Reflecting on this week’s big announcement from CVS—the elimination of tobacco products from its stores—my colleague Matt Carcieri and I have an observation:
Policy is the new 5th “P” of marketing.
This week’s policy move by CVS did more for the brand than 10 years of promotion could ever do. Through a bonanza of PR and social media buzz, it’s receiving a dramatic shot of GRPs. According to data sourced on Topsy.com, the announcement spawned over 100,000 Tweets, and even the President weighed in! Most significantly, it’s forging meaningful differentiation in a cookie-cutter category.
Think about it. What did CVS stand for last week? Nothing too distinctive, right? Now today, there’s a new thought in the back of everyone’s mind: “CVS is a genuine advocate for my health.”
An outcome like that is every marketer’s dream, and CVS achieved it not by “saying” something to us, but by “doing” something for the world. This is the new success principle of modern marketing. Actions speak louder than words. Here are a few more examples:
- Southwest’s decision to forego baggage fees (“Bags Fly Free”)
- Hyundai’s Assurance program, allowing buyers to return their new car if they lose their job
- Chick-fil-A’s choice to remain closed on Sundays
- Patagonia’s “1% for the Planet” policy, directing a cut of every sale to environmental restoration
What makes all of these “acts” meaningful is that they stem from a big, deeply held ideal, and they demonstrate a measure of self-sacrifice in service to the cause. Southwest exists to give people “the freedom to fly” and has passed up millions of dollars in baggage revenue to help. CVS seeks to “help people on their path to better health,” and on that journey, they will now lose $1.5 billion in annual tobacco sales. But in these high-stakes moves, the brands gain more than they lose. They establish authentic brand meaning and win loyal supporters. By showing they care, they earn our trust, and as every marketer knows, that’s the greatest asset a brand can acquire.
So, want to be a new brand hero like CVS?
First, it requires a “generative” ideal (statement of purpose) – one that directs action and choices. Then it takes courageous leadership from the top. Marketing isn’t a departmental activity anymore; it’s the business of the company. And business policy can be the best marketing of all. Kudos to CVS and CEO Larry Merlo for showing us the way.