AARP No Longer Your Grandmother’s Membership Organization

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 15, 2013

             With the printing of a full-page four-colored ad in the February 25, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine,  AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group, moved to reinvent its membership image by rolling out an ad campaign to lure the nation’s aging baby boomers into its rank and file. At that time the public viewed an AARP member as being in their sixties gliding into the twilight of their  retirement years.  One simple ad consisting of a picture of a shirtless, lean, aging baby boomer carrying his mud-caked mountain bike, worked effectively to change this misperception.   AARP members were not moving into their twilight years but still young, vibrant, and even active. 

             “Be Yourself,” blared the ad’s tag line, identifying the 50ish male with gray hair in the ad: “Peter Carlstrom, 51, cyclist, canoeist, an AARP Member.”

             In 2002, with the kickoff of this media campaign, the nation’s largest aging group, representing 35 million members in that year, geared up efforts to recruit the growing number of the nation’s baby boomer generation – born between 1946 to 1964 – into its membership ranks.

             Baby boomers don’t make compromises, said AARP’s membership recruitment ad over a decade ago – “They make choices.”  Furthermore, the ad stated that AARP was there to help with fitness programs, and to provide information on making healthy choices in a myriad of ways, including eating right and staying fit.        

“Real Possibilities” Ad Campaign Kicks Off

             Today, AARP continues to attack the misperception associated with its brand and with aging stereotypes, by launching another national advertising campaign.  According to the Washington, DC-based group, “Real Possibilities” aims to revitalize and repositioning AARP as a membership organization that is relevant that can deliver messages of strength and empowerment. “Real Possibilities” will now serve as the organization’s new tagline and will be implemented into the existing AARP logo.

             AARP’s new public relations campaign, created by GREY, seeks to show not only what the face of 50+ looks like today, but more importantly, the new mindset of people entering or already in this life stage.  It will run in TV and digital media through October 2013. 

             AARP is putting one-third of its “Real Possibilities” media buy towards social and digital media and the ads will appear on more lifestyle outlets as opposed to the news-focused outlets they’ve primarily appeared on in the past.  Ads will drive consumers to a newly created landing page http://www.aarp.org/possibilities, where they will be able to access content that is most relevant to the 50+ audience looking to achieve their “real possibilities.”

             “People are looking for a trusted ally to help them turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, and that’s where AARP can help them and their families,” said A. Barry Rand, CEO, AARP. “This is an opportunity to reintroduce AARP to the public and show the value that we provide to the 50+ audience. We think this campaign effectively demonstrates how AARP is relevant to them.”

             AARP is shifting the focal point of the conversation from aging and advice, to a deeper level of personal connection and empowerment. People age 50+ don’t want to be defined by age, and they don’t want to live in fear that their possibilities become more limited as they get older.

             “Possibilities are critical to this audience and millions of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living in a new life stage—the age of possibility,” said Emilio Pardo, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, AARP. “We want to show how their life experiences have tremendous value and that possibilities should not be less, they should be ageless.”

 Reintroducing AARP to a Younger Crowd

             While some may see AARP’s new marketing effort as a way to expand its membership base to younger members, for AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, its very practical to bring aging baby boomers in early.         

                “As AARP evolved it became evident that most things about ‘retirement’ require attention well before the day people retire, Martin, citing his favorite example, retirement security.

             “How can we help members plan for a secure retirement if we wait until retirement to reach out and offer resources and assistance?  And then there is the more current qustion: If, say, at 52 you are working full time but feeling the weight of college tuition, rising taxes and you’ve seen the equity in your home plummet, you should not wait until retirement age to make your voice heard on Medicare and Social Security.  Most 50-year-old Americans now recognize they have a vital stake in the sustainability of these programs.”

             According to Martin, retiring in dignity also depends on one’s health. “It’s awfully hard to turn things around when you are 65, so AARP needs to connect with people earlier to provide health and fitness resources that might make life at 70 or 80 more enjoyable, he says.

              “Another outcome of reaching those ages in better health is that people have created at least a better chance of saving on healthcare costs.”  He asks, “How can AARP promote the benefits of staying active and mobile if we have not been encouraging better diet, exercise and preventative care as retirement approaches?”

             Martin says people welcome such notions as “60 is the new 50.” He points out that media images of the serene couple relaxing in easy chairs has been replaced by CNN stories about people skydiving to celebrate their 70th birthday or 80-year-old competitive swim champions.  “We Boomers live for the hope that we can reach retirement in better physical and mental shape than our parents. A generation ago, society was telling people to retire, collect Social Security and act their age – to accept the gold watch at 62 or 65 and ride off quietly into the sunset. No more,” he says.

 Great AARP Websites

            AARP is working hard to be the best resource, online, in-person and in communities to help aging baby boomers and those older to discover new possibilities, notes Martin. As part of the “Real Possibilities” initiative, AARP offers a way to reimagine your life (lifereimagined.aarp.org).  This website offers people over age 50 with an opportunity to design his or her own reimagined life.

            Also AARP recently launched a dating service. And why not?, asks Martin. “Happiness and romance is not reserved for those couples in the beer commercials. Think about online dating services of the past decade or two. Did many seem at all tailored to or comfortable for anyone over 50?  The AARP brand and all that we stand for makes taking a chance a lot more comfortable.”

            With the graying of America, AARP has redefined its mission and repacked itself twice in the past 13 years. The redirected membership organization, expanding its generational reach, now strives to make a person’s journey throughout their entire lifespan a little easier, a bit better and brighter.

            Now isn’t that worth the cost of an AARP membership.  For more information about AARP membership and benefits, log on to www.aarp.org/join or call AARP Rhode at 401-248-2663 and request a membership application. AARP’s Web site is in Spanish, too, at www.aarp.org/espanol

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.