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Everywhere You Go, a Duane Reade Ad
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
Published: July 8, 2009
An ad in a new Duane Reade campaign intended to encourage New Yorkers to view the
drugstores as the hometown favorite.
MACY’S, F. A. O. Schwarz and Saks Fifth Avenue are not the only retail landmarks of New York
City: there is also the Duane Reade drugstore chain. With 253 stores in and around New York,
Duane Reade is a near-ubiquitous presence in the city, as its former slogan, “Everywhere you go,
Duane Reade,” put it.
For most New Yorkers, Duane Reades are an unavoidable fact of life. There is one next to the
subway, one across the street from work, one next to the grocery store. If you wanted to buy your
toothpaste somewhere else, you would be challenged: there are only 13 Walgreens, 27 Rite-Aids,
and 15 CVS stores in Manhattan, according to those stores’ Web sites, versus dozens of Duane
Now, for the first time in recent history, the company is introducing a brand-advertising
campaign, trying to make New Yorkers think of Duane Reade as the hometown favorite. It is part
of an effort by new owners, Robert Bass’s private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners, which
bought it in 2004, to spruce up the brand and the stores. The new slogan does not focus just on
location; instead, it is “Your city. Your drugstore.”
“As much as we’re part of the fabric of life in New York City, there wasn’t a clear understanding of
what the brand stood for,” said Joe Jackman, acting chief marketing officer for Duane Reade. “It’s
a functional relationship. We want to create a bit more of an emotional relationship in terms of
Some would consider that a challenge. Drugstores do not tend to stoke devotion much to begin
with. And whether it deserves the enmity of New Yorkers or not, the chain — which, like most
things New York, can be crowded and confusing — has inspired blogs like
IHateDuaneReade.blogspot.com covering complaints about the store. In May, the company
settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
on behalf of employees at a Bronx store.
“The current management team is trying to do a lot of changes,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at
the retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle. The remodeled stores are “very different looking stores
than the old Duane Reades that we hated, and shopped there because you had to, but hated
because the aisles were two feet wide and 10 feet up in the air and crammed with stuff and rude
people, and all the stuff that made Duane Reade, Duane Reade,” he said. “I think they’re trying to
change that image.”
The advertising campaign, which begins Monday, is a major part of that.
Duane Reade hired the New York City advertising firm DeVito/Verdi to create brassy ads to
appeal to New Yorkers. It has done that kind of work before — one 1998 ad it created for New
York magazine called it “Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,” a
reference to the former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“We really looked to develop a uniquely New York voice,” Mr. Jackman said. “Of course, it’s
appropriate, because that’s the customer who’s in our stores every day, and who we are and what
we come from.”
Ellis Verdi, president of the advertising firm, said the goal of the ads was not a wholesale attitude
change, but just an improvement in how customers thought of the store. “We have to make it just
a little bit more palatable, a little bit more interesting, and make a little bit more of a connection
with the consumer,” he said.
Though DeVito/Verdi is also working on print and radio ads, it is beginning the campaign with a
slate of outdoor ads. Each month through December, there will be 220 urban panels (units at the
top of subway entrances), 2,000 ads in subway cars, 250 ads in subway stations, 40 ads on phone
kiosks, 1,000 ads in buses and
225 ads on the exterior of buses.
“A New Yorker, not only won’t they not be able to bump into a Duane Reade, they won’t be able to
not bump into our advertising,” Mr. Verdi said. “It’s as ubiquitous as the chain itself, and it
becomes a part of the fabric of New York, which I think is part of the mission here.”
The ads themselves are a sort of inside joke with New Yorkers. One features a photo of PeptoBismol, the medicine for upset stomachs, with the line, “Feast of San Gennaro. September 1020.” The feast is a well-known Little Italy eating extravaganza. Another reads “Get everything you
need in 15 minutes. Or as
New Yorkers call it, lunch hour.” A third reads, “The one place even tourists can find.”
They are meant to separate Duane Reade from its suburban- tinged brethren.
“CVS might talk about ordinary Americans, they tend to be in places where they’re very, very soft
and subtle,” Mr. Verdi said. “We can be strong and have a clear voice.”
The company is also changing its stores as it updates its marketing. It is widening the aisles,
adding more lighting and changing the layout and signs to help with navigation, company
executives said. Of course, it will never be a spacious suburban drugstore. Part of what has driven
Duane Reade has been its real estate strategy: it snapped up real estate where other retailers
dared not go, buying basement spaces, L-shaped layouts or two-story units, and cramming its
merchandise in there. “What’s made them successful in New York is their ability to make unusual
spaces work,” Mr. Stern said.
That made Duane Reade convenient, though not always pleasant — an image the ads are trying to
“That is exactly the challenge,” Mr. Verdi said. “Before Starbucks was in town, you thought about
going to your neighborhood coffee shop. But I’d bet you’d walk an extra block or two to get a
Starbucks, or most people would. That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. It’d be great if
they’d just go an extra block, or it’d be great if they went across the street.”