In an age when beauty standards have become wildly unrealistic, CVS Health—the country’s second-largest beauty retailer, with nearly 10,000 stores—is fighting back. Under CMO Norman de Greve, the company began assessing a year ago all the images in its stores, social media feeds, advertising materials, and on its website, and applying a “Beauty Unaltered” watermark to those that had not been substantially retouched—and a “digitally altered” label to those that had. Today, some 70% of images have been examined as part of the Beauty Mark initiative, and de Greve is working closely with every brand in CVS, including L’Oréal, CoverGirl, and Revlon, to achieve its goal of labeling 100% of the images in its stores by 2020 and moving the needle toward greater transparency in the beauty industry. “We have a platform that can enable this to happen,” he says.
Fast Company: Why did you decide to pursue this initiative?
Norman de Greve: Research shows that the majority of women feel worse about themselves after seeing a beauty ad, and digitally altered images of women are contributing to this problem. But we also saw that consumers were gravitating toward social influencers who are authentic and wear their flaws on their sleeve.
FC: How has the beauty industry responded?
ND: The brands have to decide whether to [use] digitally altered images [in CVS stores] or reshoot their campaigns so they can receive the Beauty Unaltered mark. Johnson & Johnson actually reshot its ads with Kerry Washington so that it would meet our guidelines—and then used those images across all retailers.
FC: Have sales been affected?
ND: The idea that consumers are buying from purpose-driven companies is real. Since we launched Beauty Mark, we’ve gained not just sales but also market share. [It’s like when we] stopped selling tobacco in our stores [in 2014], and sales went up. [That initiative] enabled people to see us as committed to their health. And on the B2B side of CVS, which is about insurance and things like that, clients saw us helping our members. People said, “I want to be associated with this.”