CVS Caremark: #CVSQuits

CVS Caremark’s decision to phase-out the sale of tobacco products in its stores has been the topic of much conversation in the past week. The brand’s choice to ban the substance, to be completed by October 1st of this year, is part of a larger brand-focusing exercise, aligning CVS with its desired position as a healthcare service provider. So far, the laudable decision has been warmly received by the majority of the audience.

The success of the PR campaign can be attributed to the multimedia press release the brand distributed on the day of the announcement. The rich graphics, made up of video footage, infographics, and high-resolution images, worked with CVS’ statement in order to answer questions among media personnel and the public, and ensure quality reporting. It also made sharing the content easy due to social media’s love of visual content.

“Blogs need pictures. People on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram want pictures, too. CVS provided this multimedia news release with videos clips and downloadable, high-resolution infographics and photographs to support the stories.” – CVS Caremark CEO, Larry J. Merlo.

Although CVS understood the power of social media and how to influence it, the business fell a little flat in its own social media execution. The brand started well: it used Facebook and Twitter to interface with its audience on an individual basis, prompting the #CVSQuits hashtag to trend worldwide. In taking the time to address both the positive and negative reactions to its decision to ban tobacco, CVS managed to reinforce its stance as a concerned, caring healthcare provider – resulting in many of its consumers sharing their personal stories and experiences with tobacco. The amount of attention the multimedia campaign garnered, however, highlighted some of the ill-advised, crisis communication choices made by the social media department.

Not significant enough to cause a large backlash, but enough to undermine the integrity held in crafting individual messages and spark ire, the social media responses of the now dubbed “CVS AutoBot” were generic and lacked variation. From what was said, it’s clear that CVS was prepared for a backlash against its business decision, but it failed to think about how its methods of addressing the kickback would impact its business. Instead, CVS stepped away from using its human tone and repeatedly used the same rhetoric: a neatly-written, pre-packaged retort with all the personality of a sea-sponge.

In doing this, the PR messages felt false; the “we care” action of addressing everyone individually was at odds with the “we’re not listening” message content. Sadly, this resulted in those who didn’t understand the decision to ban tobacco being blinded by the “AutoBot” – disregarding CVS’ explanatory messages in favor of expressing their disgruntlement.

CVSBad4Though using social media flawlessly as a broadcast tool, CVS ultimately ignored the strength of social media as a way to build relationships and connect with audiences on a personal level. In essence, CVS relinquished its chance for effective and timely damage control amongst those who disagree with its choice to remove tobacco products.

Still, we’ll chalk it up to CVS receiving 17,000 interactions on the day of the announcement on Twitter alone – a few more than its usual 300 each week.