Longs goes beyond Rx to separate from pack

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Longs Drug Store Corp. has aggressive growth plans, and literally is singing the praises of its employees' training and friendliness in a new $20 million ad campaign.

In the effort, from new shop Pickett Communications, San Francisco, the No. 6 U.S. drugstore chain aims to set itself apart from large chain competitors such as Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreen Co. by positioning itself as an innovative drugstore with an old-fashioned touch. Only one of Longs' new TV spots focuses on its pharmacy, while those two chain store rivals of late have centered their overall ad efforts on consumers buying prescription drugs.

MUSICAL ANSWERS

Each of Longs' five spots is centered on a customer who goes into the store with an everyday question. In a takeoff on Broadway musicals, employees burst into song to answer the questions and are joined by a chorus of high-stepping colleagues.

In one spot, a customer asks for a moisturizer. "If you've got a notion, I've got a lotion," a saleswoman sings. Another number celebrates the photo development department manager, while a holiday spot shows staffers in Santa hats rolling out wrapping paper and gift items.

Each spot is tagged with the new line, "Live healthy. Live happy. Live Longs." Pickett won the account in April following a review. Michael Rooney, son of actor Mickey Rooney, directed the commercials, which feature 25 actors. Thirteen of those in the spots wearing Longs green smocks were recruited from the ranks of Longs employees.

The ad push follows Longs' research that indicated customers like the chain's friendly service and enjoy browsing there. Managers at individual stores often customize their offerings, helping to give an old-fashioned, neighborhood character to the Longs shopping experience.

TARGETING WOMEN

Spots targeting women 25 to 49 will run in 16 Western markets in prime time and in daytime. In addition to TV, the campaign includes radio, print and outdoor. A Hispanic effort is being prepared by Wing Latino Group, Los Angeles.

Longs has 422 stores in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The chain plans to open 25 additional stores this year, with as many as 40 to 50 new locations per year slated after that.

In addition to drug chain competitors, traditional drugstores such as Longs are being challenged by discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores and Target Stores. Grocery chains, such as Safeway Stores, also are advertising their pharmacy services; and online operations, from home delivery services such as Webvan to drugstore specialists such as More.com, also are potential competitors.

Longs current Web site allows patients to renew prescriptions and by yearend will include health and beauty merchandise.

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