CVS Paying the PR Price for Long Receipts

PR experts know the power of social media. Social media, in fact, has guaranteed the continued need for PR professionals. Celebrities, athletes and brands seem incapable of setting down their iPhones and not spouting off to the rest of the world their feelings about Miley Cyrus twerking, turmoil in the Middle East or why haters shouldn’t hate so much.

Yet, as PR experts we love it when the public takes to social media. So we celebrated the recent and hilarious twitter feed, “CVS Receipt,” that both celebrated and vilified the incredibly long receipts being dispensed at CVS stores. The Facebook page, “One Million Strong Against Ridiculously Long CVS Receipts,” does as well. This public reaction stems from those quick observations—like the flash of a camera—we make when something odd occurs in the course of our busy lives. “Huh?” we think. “What’s up with that?”

So when thousands of—if not more—people experience the same reaction, then a brand has a public relations situation on its hands. Like many PR crises, this one just popped up and assumed an online life of its own, thrusting CVS into a precarious PR conundrum. The receipts, after all, serve a purpose: They are part of a customer loyalty strategy that offers discounts to valued customers. Yet instead of savings, customers are seeing waste.

The receipts are an obvious waste of paper. However, what poses a greater PR threat to CVS, is that the receipts have become a symbol of inefficiency and corporate stupidity. “How hard can it be to fix something like this?” the public thinks. “If they can’t curtail this waste and pass the savings on to me, then why should I even shop here. And when did toothpaste start costing $5 anyways?”

In response, CVS has implemented a muddled and somewhat cryptic strategy. It publicly acknowledged the PR challenge (admitting you have a problem is the first step!), but then stumbled with the public explanation of their vision for how the brand was going to fix the problem and when. CVS needs to get its PR act together, and soon. Right now the public is having a good laugh, but when the smiles subside, the questions begin. At that point, the PR hole becomes much deeper.