AARP’s Marketing Chief Pardo: ’50 Is the New 50′

Academy Awards viewers may have wondered why consumers in two AARP spots kept saying, “When I grow up.” (If you’re over 50, aren’t you already grown-up?) The ads, said AARP’s Emilio Pardo, actually kick off a new campaign that stresses that boomers (to borrow a phrase from Bye Bye Birdie) have “a lot of livin’ to do” and that 50 isn’t the end of youth. The strategy builds on a previous AARP campaign which showed children wishing they’d grow up faster so they can do the things that grown-ups do. “Now we flip it and say, ‘They’re not done growing up, and they want to continue to learn and discover’” new things, Pardo said. The evp and chief brand officer of the nonprofit organization—which boasts more than 40 million members—chatted with Brandweek about AARP’s first Oscars buy. Excerpts are below.

Brandweek: AARP is using the Oscars (which drew 36.3 million viewers last year) to launch a new campaign targeting boomers. What’s the creative strategy in a nutshell?
Emilio Pardo:
This is a campaign that is in essence celebrating the fact that our members and the 50-plus population as a whole are not done having goals and dreams, and they’re still growing and discovering [themselves]. What found in our research is that our members tell us they have a great deal more to do and that they’re not done [living life] yet. One can argue that your best years are still ahead in this campaign. We’re using that emotional connection to launch this year’s brand and story campaign. We will evolve it through the year, and it’ll stay very focused. As you’ve seen in the ads, it’ll revolve around that ultimate question of, “What do I want to do next in today’s environment?”

BW: Why is this message relevant now?
You have people that, because of the economy, are looking at their [lives] and focusing on redefining it. It’s not just, “I want to get a new job.” It’s having to get a different job or needing to aspire to something else. The purpose of the spots is to [communicate that] we want to help you find the next best step for you.

BW: This is the first time AARP has advertised during the Oscars. Why choose an event like the Oscars to kick off this ad campaign?
We always come out with a new outreach campaign in the first quarter. [But this year] we’re very pleased with this particular show and the Barbara Walters special preceding it. It matched our demographic, the mix of the demographic, the age, and also, it’s a good, large audience. The other thing is, in our magazine, we have a very successful series called, “Movies for Grown-ups.” [Each year, AARP Magazine picks the best movies for the 50-plus audience. The winners are honored at an awards gala and in its special issue.] Our readers love that series, and so our [Oscars buy] also ties in with something we know our readers like.

BW: AARP’s mission is to “improve the quality of [the] lives” of people over age 50. How is this campaign, then, any different? And how did you come up with the insight for it?
It’s an evolution of what we’ve done in the past. Several years ago, we launched a really effective campaign that [touted] the five core needs of our organization: the need for health, financial security, giving back, connecting [with loved ones] and having fun. We launched a campaign, called Future Champions, highlighting those needs. It showed kids talking about how they wished they [could grow up faster] so they can do the things that grown-ups do. So now, we flip it and say, “They are not done growing up, and they want to continue to learn and discover.” It focuses now on the “wants.” We knew we couldn’t [focus on] the needs and the wants at the same time, so we focused on the needs first. So now we need to get to the wants, but [we’re telling it] directly from the voice of the adults and flipping the grown-up concept around.