GSD&M Is Tasked With Reinventing AARP

Reinventing the AARP as an American icon is the mission for GSD&M, which added the cli ent’s $25 million account last week, following a review.

GSD&M’s record of build ing lasting emotional connections between consumers and brands such as Wal-Mart and Southwest Airlines helped the shop clinch AARP’s business, said client officials.

The Austin, Texas-based agency’s success at elevating those brands, particularly Wal-Mart, to near “iconic” stature ultimately pushed GSD&M past Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen in the review’s final round, sources said.

“They can demonstrate their success in [creating emotional resonance] and that makes people here very comfortable,” said John Killpack, director of brand management at AARP.

Recent AARP ads have been issues-oriented and tagged, “Active for life.” But the group wants to be a national brand Americans recognize, not just for its benefits to retirees, but also as a “socially responsible or ganization that’s really trying to make things better in the world,” Killpack said.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit did not require creative presentations, but asked the shops for strategic approaches to clarifying its image.

To move in that direction, AARP has charged GSD&M with an assignment aimed at the group’s 35 million members and the 44 million Americans over age 50 who are prospective members, said GSD&M representative Eric Webber. Print, radio, TV and other media will be included; no launch date has been set.

“Our agency seems to gravitate to brands with a purpose, and there’s not an organization that we know of that has a more significant purpose than AARP,” said shop founder and executive media director Judy Trabulsi.

The key for upcoming efforts will be to so thoroughly brand the AARP that it becomes “a certainty” to Amer icans that they will, one day, join, thus increasing the group’s already considerable political clout and influence, sources said.

GSD&M, an Omnicom unit, added creative and media chores, replacing GMMB of Washington, D.C., which did not defend. MatchWorks, New York, consulted. —with David Gianatasio

and Wendy Melillo