Debra Goldman’s Consumer Republic

On baby boomers’ long reluctant march into old age, there is no rite of passage more harrowing than the first direct mail solicitation to join AARP. It is the one piece of junk mail every boomer dreads. Nevertheless, across America boomers are turning 50 at the rate of one every six seconds. And there’s still about 73 million more to go—every one destined to be on the mailing list of AARP, the multimillion-dollar nonprofit colossus of Capitol Hill.

For many in this membership mother lode, the prospect of the arrival of AARP’s Modern Maturity magazine in their mailbox is as welcome as that first twinge of arthritis. Enter the magazine for aging boomers that assures them they’ll never get old. You might call it Modern Immaturity, although AARP has dubbed it My Generation, echoing both the ’60s Who anthem and the repeated refrain of focus group respondents.

Edited by Betsy Carter, a veteran of Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar and founding editor of New Woman, My Generation will debut in March with a guaranteed rate base of 3.1 million, making it the biggest magazine launch in history. It will also be sold on newsstands—an AARP first—in the hope of luring 45-year-olds, priming the future membership pump.

When one thinks of an under-served market, baby boomers are hardly the first group to come to mind. Yet according to Hugh Delehanty, Modern Maturity’s editor-in-chief and editorial director of its new sister book, research revealed that boomers “feel like they and the things that are important to them are completely ignored.”

My Generation will be a balm for that wounded narcissism. True, it’s a long way from being arbiters of the culture to being the target of what Delehanty calls “a horizontal special-interest magazine.” Boomers now take what they can get.

You’ll find the magazine’s ideal reader in AARP’s new ad campaign, another tool in the repositioning of the organization in the image of boomers, who are repositioning aging itself. Created by Washington, D.C., shop Greer Margolis Mitchell Burr & Associates, the print work features 50-year-old AARP members representing every “forever young” boomer cliché that ever graced a car ad or sold a financial service.

There’s a black-clad newly adoptive dad who is taking on new life challenges; a scaling-new-heights woman rock climber who, a half dozen years ago, might have starred in one of those sports-as-empowerment Nike ads; and a salsa dancer shaking her chintz-draped booty to express her individuality.

For them, “today’s AARP” promises a hip, ironic, irreverent lifestyle book dedicated to the proposition that crow’s-feet can be edgy. Within the AARP universe, boomers get to be the youth generation all over again. And they are bringing the same mantras of self-actualization and individuality to the party.

Boomers pride themselves on reinvention, yet are stuck on the obsession nurtured during their Dr. Spock childhoods—like their Depression-era parents who, 50 years later, still save string. Take AARP’s ad slogan: “Your choice. Your voice. Your attitude.” Is there a product targeted at boomers that’s been introduced in the last 30 years for which that slogan would not be appropriate?

No doubt it will be appropriate 30 years hence, too. Boomers are destined to transform every life stage, but are sure to do so in predictable ways. The beauty of My Generation is that it will follow them as they bring their choices, voices and attitudes to each stage of aging. Over the long term—say 30 years—Modern Maturity, founded in 1958 for a target audience born in the 19th century, will disappear. By that time, the boomers will have made octogenarians ironic.

It is only fitting then, that the design of the book will be comfortingly familiar, like a classic rock station. Plans calls for the magazine to be divided into 10 or so lifestyle segments, echoing the format of the Whole Earth Catalog, the great granddaddy of boomer lifestyle and consumption guides.

Delehanty is a former editor of Utne Reader, the alternative press digest that in its heyday was a bellwether of soon-to-be-mainstream boomer trends. He says the mission of “Utne—proving alternative ways to look at the way we live our live”—is My Generation’s, too.

Editor Carter said in a PR release, “It feels like everything I’ve done in my professional life has prepared me” for My Generation.

I suspect that readers will feel the same.