AARP Lures Boomers With Bigger Issues

With Congress likely to debate a prescription-drug bill this session and Social Security still a hot topic in Washington, AARP is repositioning itself to appeal to baby boomers as well as its core audience of senior citizens.

A campaign that breaks this week, GSD&M’s first work for AARP, emphasizes the association’s advocacy work on political issues. Previous work plugged individual services provided by AARP.

Spots from the Austin, Texas-based agency introduce the tagline, “The power to make it better,” and attempt to demonstrate the ability of the group’s 35 million members to achieve a social agenda.

Each spot shows an exaggerated, implausible situation meant to contrast the collective might of a group versus that of the individual. For example, a couple successfully holds a summit at their home with congressional staff and pharmaceutical executives to work out the best way to provide prescription-drug benefits under Medicare. The voiceover: “If one person could do it alone, the world wouldn’t need AARP.”

Another spot shows a woman calling the White House and asking the president to fix Social Security. In the third commercial, a man tells the CEO of an insurance firm that he should provide health insurance to older Americans.

Dr. Robert Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center in New York, said the new strategy is likely to resonate with Americans concerned about terrorist threats and an uncertain economy. “I think there is a lot more appreciation of the need for security of a personal kind,” he said. “With this campaign, even if people didn’t become members, they would become more positive toward AARP.”

But an ingrained perception of AARP as a group for older Americans creates a special challenge for the organization. “If you’re a baby boomer, AARP is a brand you don’t want to hear from,” said Neil Johnston, partner at brand consultancy Lippincott Mercer in New York. “It’s not that [boomers] will reject [the campaign], but they may ignore it.”

CEO Bill Novelli’s goal is to give the group a more boomer-friendly image. “AARP has a really strong brand, but what we expect to do with this campaign is really increase people’s affinity for being part of AARP,” he said. The group hopes to add another 5 million members in the next five years. In 2011, the first wave of the 78 million baby boomers will reach retirement age.

The $15 million effort employs a more “modern, contemporary, unexpected” voice than past AARP campaigns, said J.B. Raftus, svp at GSD&M, which won the account in August. He said AARP was concerned that its former positioning would not resonate with boomers. “There was a wakeup call that we have to [make a change] now,” he said.

The campaign includes a print and radio component. Print ads break in May in newsweeklies and lifestyle magazines.

Previous AARP work, by GMMB in Washington, D.C., used the tagline, “Your choice. Your voice. Your attitude,” and focused on individual benefits a member received by joining the association.