At NRF Show, CVS calls for transparency in beauty

Sources: CVS, Maybelline
Jan 17, 2018

In recognition of how unrealistic body images can negatively influence health, CVS on Monday committed to significantly reduce the amount the digitally-altered imagery it uses in selling beauty products.

“This is particularly focused on thinking about the future of our girls and all the imagery that makes them feel they’re not good enough,” said CVS Pharmacy President Helena Foulkes in making the announcement at the NRF Big Show.

To consumers, the roll out will be evident in the introduction of a “CVS Beauty Mark,” a watermark that will highlight imagery that has not been materially altered. Key brand partners and industry experts will partner with CVS to develop guidelines to ensure consistency and transparency.

CVIS will begin using the mark on beauty imagery in 2018 with the goal of applying it to all images in its in-store beauty sections as well as on its websites, social media and any marketing materials reflecting “transparency” by the end of 2020. Imagery not passing the grade will be marked “digitally modified.”

Ms. Foulkes said early talks with suppliers show they are open to making changes as well.

Overall, Ms. Foulkes described the move as the latest iteration of CVS’s recent commitment to double-down on its positioning as a “health care company,” an initiative started when it ended the sale of tobacco products in 2014.

The lofty expectations created by the airbrushing of beauty images has been linked to eating disorders and self-esteem issues. But Ms. Foulkes also said the changes reflect the fact that “we’re in an incredible moment of women’s empowerment right now where women feel very much in control and willing to share what they’re thinking.”

She also pointed out that the popularity of YouTube in the beauty category shows that girls and young women aren’t looking for “celebrities who have been touched over so much; they want to see real people. They want to see themselves reflected in these images of beauty.”

She added, “This is not some mandate that CVS is doing just to be on our own pedestal but really a reflection of the consumer, and I think these beauty companies know that too.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you think women and girls will respond to CVS’s push for transparency in the beauty category? Do the changes have more to do with women’s empowerment, health issues or authenticity?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"CVS will hit the ground running with this long wanted, long overdue position."
"Everyone is willing to suspend their disbelief to some degree when it comes to advertising."
"Empowerment, for example, is a health issue -- both mental and, in many cases, physical."

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17 Comments on "At NRF Show, CVS calls for transparency in beauty"

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Art Suriano

I think this is an excellent move by CVS and I commend them for taking a bold stand. CVS is spot on recognizing that many women today aren’t impressed with fake beauty but are more interested in what is real and most importantly what is real for them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and every individual has unique qualities and features. If CVS can help women of all ages to explore their look with what is real and will work for them rather than attempting to copy some model or celebrity, I believe they will have a significant audience, one that is happy and loyal to the brand. For some women it may be empowerment, and for others health issues, but I think all women will enjoy the authenticity of their look.

Neil Saunders

This is a good move and one that most people will welcome. CVS is right to identify that people are now looking for authenticity, which is one of the reasons a brand like Aerie is outpacing a brand like Victoria’s Secret.

That said, while CVS is good at making these big ethical plays — just as it did when it stopped selling to tobacco — it is still a pretty awful retailer. Hopefully it will devote some energy to improving its stores and general retail proposition.

Jennifer McDermott

This move will certainly strengthen CVS’ positioning around consumer care, but it is unlikely that it will make a difference in the products women choose. Everyone is willing to suspend their disbelief to some degree when it comes to advertising. I’m skeptical many suppliers will produce two sets of ads — one to obtain CVS’ watermark and another for other distributors. Nor will they feel the need to.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I applaud the effort, and the success of Unilever’s Dove campaign would suggest this will resonate well. That doesn’t mean this will improve sales, though — price and assortment need to be very strong to bring women into CVS for beauty products in the first place.

Anne Howe

Authentic images, over time, can help shift women’s attitudes toward empowerment and strong, positive self-images. Many brand-oriented campaigns such as Dove helped show this power. I’m happy that CVS, a huge retail brand, is taking on this effort. Their scope will affect many brands and millions of women will certainly benefit. Hooray for transparency!

Shep Hyken

Good move for CVS. No doubt a supermodel wearing makeup or fashion will catch the eye of a consumer. However, doctoring up the image to a point of being unrealistic is what CVS is against, and I support their decision to push for transparency.

Naomi K. Shapiro

CVS will hit the ground running with this long wanted, long overdue position. The changes will be welcomed, probably for ALL the above-mentioned reasons: women’s empowerment, health issues and authenticity.

Ryan Mathews
As a man I want to avoid the error of gender presumption by trying to pontificate on how women and girls will respond. As a person, it seems to make good sense. Older generations were conditioned to think of advertising as aspirational, i.e., representing an idealized goal the consumer could strive to match. This creates issues for everyone. Younger shoppers are — at least marketers assure us — more focused on issues like integrity, humanity and values and so, on against those criteria, the CVS campaign should be well received. As to what the changes, “… have more to do with …,” I’d say the options aren’t mutually exclusive. Empowerment, for example, is a health issue — both mental and, in many cases, physical. So if we look at it from a customer’s point of view the benefits seem to be authenticity, respect and the empowerment that comes from understanding that business is willing to both listen and hear one’s concerns. From CVS’ point of view it seems to be all about moving closer toward… Read more »
Joy Chen

The direction CVS is pushing for is similar to what Dove’s beauty campaign tried to do many years ago. The audience will respond positively to this. This direction is very timely with women empowerment topics currently being very visible and is getting CVS a great deal of press for their position.

Brandon Rael

This is a welcome development and long overdue. I applaud this move by CVS and this will absolutely resonate with their customers. There is an expectation out there regarding what truly is considered beautiful, without all the digital and artificial enhancements.

If they play their cards right, the beauty and lifestyle brands will most certainly capitalize on the trust and transparency movement. CVS’ move may put a bit more pressure on their competitors to follow suit.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Authenticity is the close kin of integrity, and it speaks volumes that these could converge as truth in advertising at retail. Brands need not forego the beautiful images that inspire consumers or reflect affinity with a demographic, so a campaign of transparency seems to me to be more marketing and brand positioning than a legitimate attempt at many other goals. I am skeptical that much value will result, except for the branding of CVS.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

I see this more as an issue related to positive self-esteem than empowerment and I applaud the effort of CVS as I did the effort of Dove. Any movement that helps young women believe that they are good enough and special and as worthy as they are is great. Since health issues, like eating disorders or suicide, are linked with feelings of no worth, this is also a health issue. High self-esteem and good health are inseparable.

Ralph Jacobson

This is a GREAT idea. Hopefully more and more retailers, along with CPG brands, will be going in this direction. At least one already has, as of a few years ago. Keep this going!

Craig Sundstrom

This seems to be a very gender specific question, so I won’t try to answer it, but I can’t help but note that CVS seems to be making a habit of using “controversial” marketing decisions as part of their marketing strategy. I’m not sure whether to applaud, criticize or (just) be cynical, but I’m curious what the next one will be. And I may stock up from the chocolate aisle (just in case).

Roy White

Whatever else this may be in terms of success, it was — and continues to be days after the announcement — a brilliant public relations move. The amount of voice that this announcement has garnered is massive, however you want to put it.

Cathy Hotka

I love this. It was one thing when advertisements were aspirational, but image-altering software changed everything. This effort complements the Dove Real Beauty campaign, highlighting real women’s good looks. Radical transparency on CVS’s party is very interesting … what will they do next?

Ravi Kanniganti

There is real value in depicting images of “real” people. Consumers feel more connected and you are not putting unrealistic expectations of how a ” beautiful” woman should look. To show that these products work for the ordinary person who doesn’t spend all their time in beauty treatments will send a powerful message. It is a product for real people. Kudos to CVS for this initiative.

"CVS will hit the ground running with this long wanted, long overdue position."
"Everyone is willing to suspend their disbelief to some degree when it comes to advertising."
"Empowerment, for example, is a health issue -- both mental and, in many cases, physical."

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