CVS boosts beauty sales by discouraging airbrushing

The retail chain saw results after recognizing its customers were seeking more authentic messaging.

CVS boosts beauty sales by discouraging airbrushing

Company: CVS Pharmacy
Agency partners: Kaplow Communications (media relations), Digitas
Campaign: Beauty Marks
Duration: 2017 - present

CVS Pharmacy has pledged not to materially alter the beauty imagery it creates for its stores, marketing materials, websites, apps or social media feeds.

Planning for the campaign began back in 2017. At the time, CVS’ beauty sales were declining - a trend that was also true for other retailers. This was doubly worrying, as the category "attracts younger customers into our stores," said Erin Pensa, head of PR for CVS Pharmacy. "Those are the customers who are going to be our future pharmacy and healthcare customers."

To reinvigorate the slumping market, CVS went back to the drawing board. Through internal discussions, marketing research, and listening to customers on social media, one insight surfaced again and again: Customers were moving away from the airbrushed beauty brands and seeking out smaller indie labels that presented a more unfiltered aesthetic. 

"They were seeking a more authentic experience," Pensa said. "What we were bringing them in the stores with the imagery and the experience was the opposite of that: Photoshopped and airbrushed. We saw an opportunity where we said, ‘We can change this.’"

By January 2018, CVS was ready to unveil its ambitious initiative to mark every photo in all of its 10,000 U.S. stores as "beauty unaltered" or "digitally altered." In addition to its own images, the retailer worked with major beauty brands, including CoverGirl and Revlon, getting them to comply with its new beauty standards.

While the campaign extended to images on CVS’ website and social media feeds, the in-store component was by far the most ambitious and time-consuming.

Roughly a year after that initial announcement, CVS revealed that 70% of the images in its U.S. stores were marked as either digitally altered or unaltered. Of this 70%, the majority of photos - 70%, to be exact - are digitally unaltered. By 2020, it aims to have all of its images watermarked.

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92% of women think the media uses unrealistic images to symbolize beauty. That’s why we’re making a commitment to not materially alter the beauty imagery we create for our stores, marketing materials, websites, apps, or social media. We will not digitally alter or change a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color or enhance or alter lines, wrinkles or other individual characteristics. We want our beauty aisle to be a place where our customers can always come to feel good, while representing and celebrating the authenticity and diversity of the communities we serve. Join us in filling our feeds with a more realistic standard of beauty – one that is real and transparent – by sharing your unaltered selfie with #BeautyUnaltered and tagging @CVS_Beauty. Stat Source: Endeavor consumer insight study on behalf of CVS

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To amplify the campaign, the company reached out to the media and featured unaltered images on its social media channels throughout 2018 and into 2019. CVS runs a continuous influencer campaign, which is used to promote the Beauty Mark initiative by having its influencers commit to not altering their photos. It also promoted the campaign at key industry events, including at Beautycon in New York.

The campaign generated 1,700 earned media placements, including write-ups in Fortune, Reuters, Fast Company and Allure. It was also embraced by customers: 80% of consumers had a more positive impression of the brand’s beauty business after hearing about the initiative, which scored 0% negative sentiment on social media.

CVS’ average daily beauty sales are up following the announcement, as were overall beauty sales for 2018. This year, the company’s beauty business is on pace to grow 10-times faster with millennials in their 30s than other retailers. This does not include specialty beauty chains, such as Sephora or Ulta.

"This is what we were trying to accomplish," Pensa said. "We wanted to reconnect with this important customer, to get their attention and get them back into the store."

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