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To tell you the truth, I’ve always thought of CVS as the WalMart of drugstore chains. Big, operations-driven, mom-and-pop-killing, price-crunching, vendor-eating, location-grabbing retailer. I’ve always found their graphics (and even their name) to be generic. Not quite orange, not quite red, all-caps, three consonants … in HELVETICA! How not-organic can you be?

Well, last week, they changed all that.

One of the basic principles of branding is stand for something. The whole idea is to present a consistent personality, to be identifiable in a way that people want to associate with you. Does anyone want to associate with a drugstore chain? Maybe. Maybe not. But people do want to associate with certain causes…

Keeping young people healthy. Building a healthy culture. Controlling health killers that are controllable. Preventing preventable diseases. Looking good. White teeth. Reaching middle age without a chronic cough. Being able to run a mile without fainting. Not dying young.

People can get behind all that stuff. And CVS stood for it in a dramatic way, with one company-wide policy:

“We will not sell tobacco anymore.”

So simple, and so powerful, I wish I’d thought of it.

It’s the kind of story people want to hear, the kind of story editors want to tell. So, while I’m sure this is oversimplified, it would appear that no special media relations blitz was needed. Simply write the press release and send it out:

“We will not sell tobacco anymore.”

And add, “not selling tobacco will cost us X millions of dollars a year, and we’re willing to take the hit.” Wow.

In one simple corporate decision, CVS has leaped into the paragon of greatness…up there with Johnson and Johnson. In this simple step they say…

We stand for living to be 50, still able to breathe
We stand for breathable indoor air everywhere
We stand for taking poison out of the hands of babies
We stand for a healthy someday
And we’re willing where we stand ahead of what we make

I will venture to say that CVS has made a very smart business decision. Everyone has known for a very long time that cigarettes are killers. Everyone has known that the only thing worse than cigarettes for the health of young and old alike is … well, that will be for another time. Everyone knows that cigarettes are big business. CVS has decided to take a little financial hit in order to take a brand leap it could not have achieved with $100 Million in brand advertising.

And, they did the right thing. I love when a brand does the right thing.

From now on, if I have to pick up some useless plastic objects, or grab a bottle of water, or (gag) buy a greeting card, I’m tracking down the nearest CVS. When I’m on the road and need to pick up a few things, I’m plugging CVS into the GPS.

It’s one thing for a brand to be consistent with its use of language, sound, taste, touch, color, type, and shape. It’s another thing for a brand to be consistent…with its own values. People evaluate people based on what they do. And CVS has stood for the right thing. And then done the right things.

Right on. (sorry, little 1970s action just snuck in there)

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