Our beloved Brew.

Our beloved Brew.
R.I.P. Big guy.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Without The Bottom, Where Would We Know The Top To Be?

If you've read any of my blog posts you know I do a lot of complaining. That's why I wanted to open this one by advising you that after some early critical comments, it will be a whole-hearted, feel good, post of praise.

After nearly 25 years of marriage it gets hard to come up with desirable gifts for my wife, especially since she has a longstanding reluctance about accepting gifts in general from anyone. Things we can do together, which we enjoy equally (that rules out any sporting event on her part), are always a safe bet. This is especially true about theater tickets.

With some reluctance due to the price in the reseller market, I acquired two tickets at more than four times face value to see Book of Mormon in Chicago. It was a rare date night for two empty-nesters. It was only after we were in our seats and I had a chance to read the program did I learn that the play was the work of the creators of South Park. This proved to be an unexpected bonus since my wife is a huge fan of the TV program. I've watched South Park a handful of times and it isn't my cup of tea.

While my wife thoroughly enjoyed Book of Mormon, I found it to be only mildly entertaining. It certainly didn't compare with many of the great Broadway shows I've attended. Because of the farcical premise of the play and exaggerated personalities of the characters, I couldn't identify with any of them. In most cases, I found the roles to be caricature like. The music seemed overly simple and formulaic. As an example, I can't recall a single tune from the show or the work of a single performer I thought stood out. That's pretty telling for what is billed as a musical. Sitting through Book of Mormon felt like just another South Park episode, that was about 30 minutes too long.

Here's where the praise begins . . .

In examining why I felt let down by Book of Mormon I realized that for me, the story, the music, the acting and the staging couldn't compare to a long list of shows I truly appreciated seeing.

If you haven't seen Wicked, you owe yourself the treat of seeing a truly brilliant book of music wrapped around a story of fantasy. Les Miserables may be the greatest staging, music and acting ever put on a stage where it is almost impossible not to identify with the characters. Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and even Joseph and the Amazing Dream Coat offer a level of audience appeal that is undeniably superior.

The key to each of the shows listed in the previous paragraph and dozens more that I have enjoyed is that I have seen each of them numerous times and never tire of the story or performances. Seeing Book of Mormon helped me appreciate all the more what separates an average high school musical from true Broadway worthy brilliance.

As an aside, it didn't surprise me to learn Book of Mormon will discontinue its Chicago appearance this fall, about a year into its run. Likewise, Wicked, which ran for about three years in Chicago and left for about a year is heading back to town. I will be in the audience and cheering loudly.

Walgreen's Hints At Dropping Cigarettes And Alcohol From It's Shelves

In a puzzling development, through what I intrepret as somewhat veiled messaging, Walgreen's has implied it might be the first major retail pharmacy chain to cease selling tobacco and alcohol products in an effort to keep up with the jockeying for position before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) takes effect next year. Large health insurance companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield that never really had to talk directly to consumers except in vague, warm and fuzzy terms to maintain high name recognition during the employee benefit selection process are now faced with the threat of significant and yet undetermined competition. You can expect a fierce battle for share of mind and market.

Walgreen's, CVS, Walmart and other drug stores, (Yes, I still call them drug stores despite their preference to be known as pharmacies resulting from the unsavory connotations associated with the unsuccessful "war on drugs" in this country.) already in fierce competition, will only see their battles escalate as the health insurance war rages.

Walgreen's has been using variations of a clever tag line "At the corner of . . ." for some time and recently it began completing that line with  " . . Happy and Healthy." Apparently Walgreen's is trying to convince its customers it too is part of the health care landscape.

Like its prime competitors, Walgreen's has been partnering with medical care providers to expand limited "doc in a box" services. Millions of Americans get their flu shots and an assortment of other treatments by popping into their nearest pharmacy.

I caught the tail end of a promo for Walgreen's where the pharmacy/general merchandise/liquor store/food mini mart was identified as ". . . the health care partner of the Chicago Cubs." The wording might not be precise, and I apologize for that, but that was the gist of it. As I flipped to the next station, the weight of that statement began to sink in. I found it so absurd I tried to flip back to see if I was mistaken but the spot had ended.

Unless Walgreen's is committed to being the first retailer of its kind to walk away from a huge segment of its profits, it appears the company views branding as nothing more than labeling and messaging. Branding is first and foremost about behaviors. Not just the behaviors of customers but of the company.

If Walgreen's is successful in its stilted branding efforts, think of how the same techniques could bolster attendance at neighborhood places of worship. "Your Spiritual Health Partner" could begin offering a smoking lounge, a full service bar, questionable video rentals and maybe pole dancing if behaviors and messages didn't have to match up. That might be enough to get me going back to church.

Here's a tip, Walgreen's: If you want people to believe you are anyones health care or wellness partner stop selling cigarettes and alcohol. Of course, the chain isn't likely to do that. Failing that, here's another suggestion: Walgreen's could divide its stores into two sections - the "healthy" and the "happy" with all the "sin" products they now carry like booze, smokes, Fannie May chocolates and seasonal fireworks in the latter section. Or they could simply change their message to one that is authentic, relevant, consistent with their practices and product offerings and above all else, believable.

The essence of branding is being clear about what you are not, as much as what you are. Consider the courage it took back in the old days of "full service" gas stations for someone to say, "Let's just focus on oil changes." Jiffy Lube now sits in pretty clear market space and doesn't sell a drop of gasoline. Likewise, it's almost impossible to find a BP station that will sell you an oil change but you can buy all the "fuel" you need including fountain drinks, snack food and lottery tickets.

Giving up unhealthy product categories would separate any pharmacy company. This isn't as far fetched as it sounds. Someone is going to be first. It might as well be Walgreen's. Making a bold decision like this would certainly reinforce the company's claim that they are someones health care partner. It would demonstrate that Walgreen's isn't afraid to declare what behaviors its business supports and which ones it doesn't by remedying its contradictory offerings. It would also move Walgreen's into uncontested market space but I wouldn't count on the cigarette displays and alcohol aisle disappearing anytime soon. Walgreen's is only deluding itself by claiming to stand for something it doesn't. Most likely, Walgreen's will continue to operate at the corner of Profits and Brand Hypocrisy.