THE BLOG
02/19/2014 02:07 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2014

CVS Takes a Page From Development Playbook

CVS's decision to quit marketing tobacco products is getting lots of well-deserved attention. And, I'd imagine competitors will follow suit. But its shift from drug store to health care provider is even more striking.

From marketing everything one might want or need (cigarettes, detergent, gum, prescriptions) towards marketing what one needs to want (prescriptions, wellness care, basic curative care... and sure, detergent too) will put CVS on the forefront of marketing for health and could possibly create a new model for health provision in the US.

In the non-profit world, it's what we call "social" marketing -- a practice that's been around for decades but is getting renewed attention as a creative and cost-effective way to improve health around the world.

In 1970, PSI began selling contraception at a subsidized price and building "consumer" demand through marketing to reach women and families in the developing world to better allow them to plan the families they desired. These efforts grew to include campaigns to convince consumers to adopt healthier behaviors for their own benefit and society's too. For example, efforts include communications campaigns to delay sexual debut for teens, or reduce sexual partners for HIV-at-risk adults, or consistent condom use, or ensuring that your three-year old sleeps under an insecticide-treated mosquito net every night.

Today we hear radio ads and see in-store signage at CVS reminding us to get our flu shots. It's the same concept.

In the developing world, PSI has been franchising health centers, clinics, pharmacies for some time. It works like this: we engage existing private healthcare providers, introduce new products and services, improve quality standards, and drive health consumers to them through branding and marketing. This type of operation helps match the demand for affordable and available health services with high-quality supply. PSI and other organizations have used these techniques to improve the performance of tens of thousands of private health and medical providers who are then able to meet the healthcare needs of tens of millions of lower-income consumers. Quality products and services, with a recognized brand, available on every "village corner" and successfully meeting consumers' needs. Sound familiar?

In bringing quality products and services with a recognized brand to more and more street corners with an eye to improving health outcomes, not just sales volumes, CVS is taking a page out of the development playbook. Sure, CVS must meet shareholder expectations -- it's not charity, but the beauty of CVS' recent anti-tobacco move is that profits and health will nicely align, for the benefit of both. CVS shareholders as well as the communities CVS serves will benefit from a move toward marketing more health and this move has the potential to transform an industry.

In 2014, global health organizations like PSI and US drugstores like CVS have more to learn from each other, and maybe more in common, than at any time before.