CVS says generative AI is already a powerful force in its marketing ecosystem, sometimes doing better work than humans do. And Norman de Greve, the retailer's chief marketing officer, thinks fast-learning software will shake up client-agency relationships in ways companies still haven't fully processed.
"AI is going to have profound effects on agency business," he says. "And it's not because somebody doesn't like an agency. People want things at lower costs and faster, and with quality at a level of parity with what they have now -- and that's starting to happen."
Speaking on a webinar by the Executive Lounge, owned by MadisonAlley.tv, de Greve says the company is already seeing good results with machine-generated content.
"We can train some of these tools on our images and our voice, and it is writing about our own brand better than our ecosystem is doing today because it's so dispersed. I can see that going globally, and it's going to be a serious tool."
Images are more difficult; de Greve estimates the company is perhaps four months away from creating suitable visuals.
Humans are still required for the creative process, of course. "Content has to start with an idea. But the biggest constraint for every large company is capital and humans. AI addresses that.”
He also sees enormous potential for SEO and social media posts.
And while AI gets plenty wrong, "it's evolving, and these skills are learned very fast."
The level of sophistication required for AI to use CVS data for effective personalization may still be far off, but "eventually, there could be a whole ecosystem optimizing itself."
That's especially meaningful for a company like CVS, which owns vast amounts of data on each of its 74 million loyalty members.
Ultimately, de Greve says the goal is for customer experience to become "a proactive utility, like 'Think of the thing I'm not thinking about, and think of it for me.' That's a level beyond personalization. It's about usefulness."
That fits with the overall mission of the company, which has become a combination of retailer; insurer, through its acquisition of Aetna; and healthcare provider, with the purchase of Oak Street Health.
The CMO sees CVS evolving into America's healthcare company, addressing a fundamental mismatch in how people manage their health. "Currently, the system is set up for episodic care, like cancer or a broken arm. But the real challenges are managing chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety."
Mental health is an especially important area for the company, which has recently launched free mental health screenings, and stepped up efforts to help teen girls, aiming to ease the impact of social media and altered beauty images.