Despite the weird pop-culture fascination with Extreme Couponing, there is such a thing as too much coupon, and CVS Pharmacy is likely to hear about it soon. Using Twitter and Instagram, consumers around the country have begun collecting, documenting, and subsequently poking fun at the human-length receipts they’ve been receiving at the pharmacy’s checkout counters.
Want to witness an Internet meme on the verge of explosion? A simple search of "CVS receipts" on Twitter turns up hourly tweets of exasperation at the lengthy rolls of paper accompanying meager in-store purchases. Pictures and videos of people holding floor-grazing scrolls of printed coupons abound. A "CVS Receipt" parody Twitter account has even been established.
Here’s just a sampling of the jokes: "Fun fact: the average CVS receipt, laid flat, is longer than all but five U.S. interstate freeways." (@johnmoz). "Never tell the cashier at CVS that you want the receipt with you or they wrap you up in it like a mummy." (@michaeljhudson). And this image pretty much speaks for itself.
Yes, the nationwide pharmacy is potentially on the verge of becoming the butt of an all-too-accessible and unflattering meme. But instead of calling in the PR crisis team, or chopping those receipts down and cutting the meme—and consumer fun—short, I suggest another approach entirely.
CVS ought to seize the content marketing opportunity this snafu affords its brand. Taking the high (and much more fun) road will score the company some free publicity with a minimal amount of legwork.
Other brands pay top dollar for the same kind of user-generated content that CVS currently has at its disposal. The nationwide pharmacy would be wise to sponsor a compilation of a few choice receipts: A Tumblr of some of the most audaciously long receipts, a video poised for virality incorporating homemade Instagram clips (might I suggest the Star Wars theme song to accompany this great Instavideo?), or a branded Pinterest board of the most hilariously lengthy receipts.
Of course, sponsoring any project of this ilk ought to serve as catalyst for a company-wide environmental initiative wherein participants can recycle their receipts and sign up for a new digital-based savings program.
The result? More brand awareness, increased public corporate responsibility, and a way to co-opt organic user-generated content as part of a creative marketing strategy. But the best part is: partaking in a project like this shows that CVS is actively listening to its consumers. That kind of direct engagement goes a long way in establishing and maintaining brand loyalty.
Thus far, the receipt-shaming is mostly lighthearted and in good fun. When asked, the anonymous founder of the @CVS_Receipts quipped, "My CVS is on Coolidge Ct. in Tallahassee, FL, and it has great employees." As CVS already knows well: That kind of feedback—despite the scorned savings-overkill of its receipts—is priceless.
In the Internet age, branding fails aren’t just possible, they’re inevitable. With instant access to immediate audiences, online ire can do significant brand damage in the amount of time it takes consumers to choose an Instagram filter.
So when patrons launch grassroot memes at the expense of brands, companies ought to leverage the lolz, be confident enough to poke fun at themselves, and transform digital mockery into serious brand loyalty. With a few smart moves, and a little bit of humor, CVS Pharmacy could be at the forefront of a very impressive—and better yet, successful—marketing movement.
—Katie Manderfield is a senior editor at Group SJR and editor of Unfiltered Quarterly. Matthew Mirandi is a Senior Director of Audience Development at Group SJR. Group SJR is a digital consultancy specializing in insights, content creation, curation and audience development. SJR works with the world's leading corporations, organizations and institutions to shape and share their unique knowledge through custom content strategies.
[Image: Flickr user Harris Walker]
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