GSD&M, makes waves of change for Walgreens


Scene from Walgreen’s “First Timers” spot

Who hasn’t noticed?   Walgreens is undergoing a major sea change.  A sea change in operations.  A sea change in image.  And most definitely a sea change in advertising.

For the longest while — decades and decades — Walgreens was just another of those sleepy Chicago companies that sort of muddled along, content to merely be the corner drugstore. A cluttered, uninviting place where people went to get prescriptions filled or buy some sundries.

Nothing special.  Certainly, nothing memorable.  Yes, that was Walgreens.

But somewhere along the way — around the time Walgreens acquired the Duane Reade drugstore chain in New York City three years ago — big things began to slowly happen at the drugstore chain.

We were told that a new wave of management had infiltrated Walgreens’s Deerfield headquarters — most of them previously involved with the Duane Reade operation in New York.

And when they got to headquarters, this new crowd of folks apparently began to shake up the complacent, we-are-what-we-are crowd that had been running the company for decades.

Fast forward three years.

Now we are beginning to see something different.  Not a totally-transformed Walgreens yet to be sure.  But one that is clearly embarking on a new path with a shockingly new game plan.

That game plan can be seen in the new stores the drugstore company is opening around Chicago and the rest of the nation.  Stores in buildings with some character.  Stores with unusual fresh food options, like sushi.  Stores with merchandise not previously on offer.

Walgreens’ gets new advertising right

The transformation has only just begun. But the company apparently wants to be something considerably more than it was.

Only time, of course, will tell if the new management team at the company has gotten it right.  After all, they’re asking America to embrace something pretty different from what we always thought Walgreens to be.

But it’s entirely possible they could be getting it right.

This much we know for sure, though.  They are getting the new advertising right.  Advertising designed to signal that there’s something different and potentially quite appealing happening at Walgreens.

Yet this shift in advertising wasn’t altogether a happy occasion for everyone.

For one thing, it involved the end of a long and fruitful relationship with Downtown Partners/Chicago.  A relationship that over the years produced some fascinating, push-the-envelope work for a drugstore company that, at the time, certainly wasn’t as evolved as some of the advertising it was getting from DP.

New agency GSD&M creates lifestyle brand

Change, almost inevitably, is a painful thing.  And that severing of ties with DP and the shift of the Walgreens advertising account to GSD&M in Austin, Tex., wasn’t easy to swallow initially.

But now that Walgreens has settled into this new relationship with GSD&M, we can see that good things are happening.  Most significantly, we can see that client and ad agency are perfectly in synch.

How else to explain how perfectly the new advertising campaign with the tagline “At the Corner of Happy & Healthy”  seems to tie together the old and the new Walgreens.

What GSD&M has done so remarkably well in this campaign is capture both the folksy, old-fashioned Walgreens we all knew for so long, while also pointing to a future that is clearly more up-to-the-minute, forward-thinking and — more than anything else — all about establishing the company as a lifestyle brand rather than merely a ho-hum drugstore.

Store changes displayed in latest spot 

“First Timers,” the newest Walgreens TV commercial from GSD&M, is a perfect example of what we’re talking about.  First, it oozes irresistible charm as we watch adorable images of first-time parents navigating through their world that is newly and vastly-changed thanks to the arrival of twins.

But even as we are ooohing and ahhhing over it all, we are getting specific details about how Walgreens is changing — mobile apps, home package delivery and  24/7 online pharmacy chat — to make life easier for these parents and, no doubt, thousands  more just like them.

Perhaps the single best thing about this new “At the Corner of Happy & Healthy” campaign, however, is the decision to use a voiceover announcer to deliver the ad copy.  We hear nothing from the characters in this or other spots in the series.  This choice provides not only a consistent feel to the campaign, but a feel that is wonderfully comforting, in a sort of hip, yet retro Andy Mayberry-ish sort of way.

As we said, this story of change at Walgreens is far from over and the outcome far from certain at this juncture in the sage.  But the signs are there that it could turn out to have an extraordinarily happy ending for Walgreens. And its many customers.

Agency credits:  GSD&M. CCD, Jay Russell; GCDs Victor Camozzi, Bryan Edwards; CDs, Sean LaBounty, Hayden Gilbert; writer: Leigh Browne; art director, Jon Williamson; EP, Bill Wine; producers,
Sara Cherry, Abigail Hinojosa.   

Production credits: Production company, Wondros, L.A.; director, Peter Care; EP, Gina Zapata; DP, Bryan Newsman.  Editorial: Beast, editor, Ben Ellis.  Music: Dogwalk Music

Contact Lewis Lazare at