The Difference Between
“Purpose” and “Propaganda”

CVS provides yet another master class in
what it means to live up to your brand purpose.

In January 2018, U.S. pharmacy chain CVS announced that it would no longer use “materially altered” imagery to market beauty products in its stores.

That meant no more perfect, digitally-modified wrinkle and blemish-free photographs to sell everything from moisturizer to lipstick.  Instead, CVS customers are seeing more realistic pictures of models, complete with crow’s feet and birthmarks.  (See the photo above, provided by CVS, which illustrates the difference.)

Why did CVS make this change?  It all has to do with the company’s brand purpose, their “reason for being.”

In a statement announced the change, CVS noted the connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, particularly for girls and young women.  Given that the company’s stated corporate purpose is to “help people on their path to better health,” the use of airbrushed images in promotional materials seemed contradictory and ill-advised.

This isn’t the first time CVS has made a bold move inspired by its brand purpose.  Back in 2014, the firm stopped selling cigarette and tobacco products, forgoing an estimated $2 billion in revenue.  That decision, too, was triggered by the inconsistency between the company’s purpose and the well-documented health effects of those products.  (See our earlier post on that decision.)

What CVS is giving us here is a master class in the difference between corporate purpose and corporate propaganda.

Most firms practice the latter – articulating a business purpose that makes for good annual report copy, but doesn’t really translate into tangible action.  It’s nothing more that corporate window dressing.

Far less common, but much more notable, are firms like CVS which don’t just define a brand purpose but actually live by it (even when it requires really tough decisions, like walking away from a $2 billion business).

Such actions help pave the way for a better and more distinctive customer experience because, in the eyes of consumers, it makes the company more appealing, more genuine, and more authentic.

Kudos to CVS for taking yet another bold stand that helps make their brand purpose more than just a piece of corporate propaganda.  Those kinds of decisions can spruce up a company’s brand image far more effectively than even the best airbrush.


Jon Picoult is the founder of customer experience advisory firm Watermark Consulting.  As a consultant and speaker, he’s worked with the CEOs and executive teams of some of the world’s leading brands.  Contact Jon to learn more about his “Grow Your Business On Purpose” educational program, or follow him on Twitter @JonPicoult.


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