November 2006 - Aging in America

As more people reach the 50-year mark, AARP is expanding its breadth of marketing channels to include DRTV, online marketing and viral marketing to expand its diverse membership.

By Vitisia Paynich

In the late 1940s, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, the first woman high school principal in California, retired to care for her ailing mother. However, she made it a point to remain in close contact with her former faculty members. One day, she found out that an aging Spanish teacher had fallen on hard times.

Andrus was given an address for the teacher. When she knocked on the door, a person who answered told her that the woman didn’t live in the home and pointed toward a chicken coop located in the backyard where the woman had been living.

Outraged by what she had witnessed, Andrus fought for the rights of teachers by working tirelessly to develop a group of health insurance pro-gram for these retired educators and ensure their financial security. In 1947, Andrus established the grams for these retired educators and ensuring their financial security. In 1947, Andrus established the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA). The determined advocate approached several insurance companies until she found one, Continental Casualty, which was willing to ensure older people. Andrus soon realized that all retirees needed such benefits as well. This inspired her to create AARP in 1958. Today, NRTA continues as AARP’s educator community.

Nearly 50 years later, AARP holds true to its founding principles: 1) to promote independence, dignity and purpose for older persons; 2) to enhance the quality of life for older persons and 3) to encourage older people “to serve, not to be served.”

Lin MacMaster, senior managing director of member experience at AARP in Washington, D.C., says that, AARP has evolved into three organizations, which include AARP Foundation, AARP Non-Profit and the subsidiary, AARP Services. AARP Services develops unique products and services, such as auto insurance, which help meet the needs of aging people.

“We have a social mission for this organization, and we generate revenue through AARP Services, which then helps to fund the programmatic work of AARP,” explains MacMaster.

To date, AARP boasts a membership of 37 million. MacMaster heads a group tasked with acquisition, engagement and renewal of members. “Our group is also responsible for understanding the needs of our members through our member insight group,” she says.
MacMaster adds that her team does very sophisticated modeling of the membership data “in order to know and understand AARP members so well that we can actually begin to tailor our [marketing] message down to the individual member.”

So how would one describe a typical AARP member? “The only similarity between our members is the fact that they are over the age of 50,” notes MacMaster. “I think the common ground for our members is really understanding the needs of people as they turn 50, and continue through the rest of their lives.”

On a monthly basis, the AARP site attracts 1.5 million unique visitors.

“As we look at our members and we look at their needs, there are really five main drivers to aging, and we like to call them the five ageless realities,” she notes.

The first need is for financial wellbeing. “There are a number of issues that people are dealing with from a societal standpoint. One is the fact that chances are their parents are still alive and they’re dealing with their aging,” MacMaster says.

What’s more, people are having children older in life, so many of AARP’s members have children still in the household. Thus, she says, they’re concerned about: “How am I going to take care of my parents? How am I going to take care of my children? And, how am I going to have enough money saved to be able to do the things that I want to do in my life?”

Second is health and the need and desire to continue to live in a healthy manner. Next is contribution. MacMaster points out that when people begin to reach a certain age and they’ve done certain things in their lives, there is a need to begin to create a legacy.

The fourth reality is a sense of community. This includes one’s family as well as the larger community. Lastly, it’s about where one is in his or her life. According to MacMaster, “It’s almost like ‘I’ve lived my life for my parents, then my spouse and my children. Now, I want to be able to do [something for] myself-whether I want to find a new career [or] I want to travel. I want to do things that are going to enhance me.’”

So, what do these five principles have to do with driving membership? MacMaster says her team uses them as a guideline for every marketing campaign they work on, including both traditional and direct marketing.

“We do a lot of direct response television, MacMaster points out. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of testing in DRTV over the past few years.” AARP has experimented with both long form and short form.

Diversity has been a core value to AARP since its inception. According to MacMaster, AARP is the largest organization for the Hispanic-Latino market today. In fact, 2.6 percent of its membership is Hispanic. Although the organization continues to market to this membership segment via direct mail and print advertising, MacMaster’s team believes DRTV is an effective medium for reaching a target audience.

About a year-and-a-half ago, AARP’s director of engagement and renewal marketing, Skip LaBella, began searching for a spokesperson to represent the Hispanic-Latino market in a DRTV campaign. During that time, LaBella considered Latina celebrity, Cristina Saralegui. As a renowned Spanish-television personality, Saralegui hosts her own talk show, called “Cristina,” on Univision.

“We went through a lot of work to determine whether or not she was the right person, and what we discovered after doing a very in-depth review of her history was that she has really brought forth many of the social issues that our membership faces through the forum she has on her show, ‘Cristina,’” says LaBella. He then negotiated a contract with Saralegui.

Wade Osborne, director of acquisition marketing at AARP, took over the DRTV efforts for the Hispanic-Latino campaign from LaBella. When it came time to plan the DRTV creative, Osborne says they carefully considered English and Spanish, especially when it came to reaching out to the English-dominant Hispanic segments.

“In terms of language, we didn’t want to isolate one over the other,” he says. Thus, short-form spots were created in both Spanish and English to hit everyone in the market.

The first spots with Saralegui aired in March 2006 on Spanish TV networks.

What has been the response to AARP’s DRTV efforts? LaBella admits, “In terms of results, I have to say it certainly lags behind the general market, but it is a strategic decision made by AARP that we are going to invest [in DRTV] to ensure that our membership is representative of the make-up of the over-50 population.”

When it comes to marketing to African-Americans, the membership team is aggressively testing long-form programming. This year, Osborne and LaBella have teamed with Paxton Baker, senior vice president of BET J (Black Entertainment Television on Jazz), to help develop a campaign targeted to African-Americans who actually make up 5.6 percent of AARP’s membership.

“In terms of bringing in BET J as a partner,” says LaBella, “they obviously know this space very well with the African-American community.” He says Baker and BET J have offered guidance on production and even on language.” The long-form shows are scheduled to air in November.

In addition to going full force with its DRTV efforts, MacMaster and her team are constantly fine-tuning their online marketing efforts, as well. “The online channel is actually one of the fastest growing channels at AARP from an acquisition perspective,” notes Osborne. “I mean, more and more baby boomers, and those 65-plus, are online. And one of the ways we track prospects and members to AARP is around all of the information that’s available [via the web].”

Thus, Osborne says the Internet is essentially a natural target to bring people into the fold. He adds that the web allows prospects to discover AARP on their own terms and at their own pace. Membership and first-time visitors to the site ( can access information about health, finance and travel. In addition, the team has ventured into viral marketing. AARP has partnered with Tickle to create a viral marketing campaign, which features an online questionnaire. MacMaster explains that it’s a personality quiz to find out if members are who they want to be. The campaign launched in October.

This year, AARP CEO Bill Novelli completed a book, called 50+: Igniting a Revolution to Reinvent America, in which he discusses the changing landscape of American society and the revolution that is brewing for changing the way Americans over 50 are living their lives. Further, Novelli looks at transforming the healthcare system, creating secure retirement and building livable communities.
These are issues that are critical to AARP’s advocacy. While AARP believes in multichannel marketing, the core message will always stem from the five ageless realities. And, according to MacMaster, it’s not just about reaching people, it’s also about guiding them toward the information, products and services that are going to help their quality of life.

We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please e-mail the magazine at [email protected].


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment