Rite Aid Returns to Branding

Following a two year financial mess that waylaid branding efforts, Rite Aid Drugstores has launched a campaign from MARC/-USA that focuses on the chain’s pharmacists.

Four spots tagged, “With us, it’s personal,” attempt to set the chain apart from competitors in a field where consolidation has erased mom and pop drugstores and the relationship many customers shared with their local druggist.

Spending is not expected to reach $90 million, where it was in 1998 before accounting irregularities and earning restatements swept out management. But it is expected to be substantially more than the $20 million recorded last year.

The work stems from a two-year brand study undertaken while Rite Aid righted its financial ship and concentrated on straight price advertising. The research showed that the pharmacy, where 60 percent of the chain’s sales are collected, is all-important for consumers, said Sharon Aulicino, vice president and management supervisor at the Pittsburgh shop.

“No one really got that it’s the pharmacy, it’s the pharmacist,” Aulicino said.

The spots are based on stories from pharmacists, said John Learish, vice president of marketing at Rite Aid. In one, a druggist makes a home visit to an elderly ex-boxer to help him with his blood pressure apparatus, and the man invites the Rite Aid employee to stay for pasta fagoli.

Learish said the chain undertook extensive training to assure the spots did not over-promise.

“That’s the risk: We can deliver great marketing but if we don’t carry it out at the store level we can’t win,” he said.

Pharmacists “didn’t see (the spots) as the extreme. They saw it as what they got into the business for in the first place.”

The new campaign broke over the weekend and will run through February in 48 markets. A unique Sunday circular that takes the form of a “lifestyle magazine” complements the ads, Aulicino said.