Anticipating the changing needs of the 78 million baby boomers turning 50 in the next 14 years, AARP turned to Fleishman-Hillard in 2000 to develop and launch a multi-year, multi-program brand expansion campaign. With more than 34 million members, AARP is the nation’s leading advocacy group for persons 50 years of age and older. Utilizing internal and external communications via media relations, events, Internet projects, advertising, promotions, and other elements, the FH program supports AARP’s brand expansion campaign efforts with a research-driven plan designed to add new members while maintaining current membership loyalty. The ultimate goal: to change the target audience’s perception of AARP by communicating in new, exciting, unexpected ways. The launch of Today’s AARP was the first public event showcasing AARP’s brand expansion.  
AARP, the nation’s leading organization for people age 50 and older, is widely recognized and positively valued for its strength as an organization, its reliability, consistency, honesty and trustworthiness. However, research conducted by the association showed that although 74 percent of adults ages 45 – 59 are familiar with AARP, they are not familiar with all the organization has to offer leading to a predominantly neutral perception of it, which has created a generation gap in how people ages 45-59 view AARP as an organization that is personally relevant to them.
Competing organizations have been moving aggressively into the marketplace touting new products and services targeted at the baby boomers who are entering the 50+ age group at the rate of one every seven seconds. In many instances, their offerings and services are similar to those offered by AARP. However, AARP has a distinct advantage because of its long-standing reputation as expert in this age group, and its breadth, depth and mission of providing resources and advocacy to those 50+.
This disconnect between the baby boomers’ perception and reality set up the challenge for AARP: to define the value of the Association in a context relevant to the new generation of 50-somethings without appearing to abandon older Americans who already see value in the organization.
Fleishman-Hillard was asked to launch a brand expansion campaign that would broaden the appeal of AARP to the baby boom generation. We learned from focus group research that the benefits of “choice, voice and attitude” resonate well with the target audience. Using this valuable information, we integrated the positive associations with the organization with a new tagline that conveyed the spirit of the campaign: Today’s AARP. Your Choice. Your Voice. Your Attitude. The primary objectives were to 1) launch an integrated communications campaign clarifying AARP’s breadth, depth and mission for the new generation of 50 + Americans without alienating current members; and 2) initiate the first steps in efforts to change perceptions of baby boomers about AARP, moving from a brand perception as “my father’s AARP” to “adventurous, optimistic and connected to me.”
The launch of Today’s AARP was the first public event showcasing AARP’s brand expansion. A visual strategy mirrored images of the national advertising campaign, and introduced new AARP offerings and services targeted toward baby boomers. The launch campaign provided a compelling vehicle that brought to life the imagery and tone of AARP in the minds of the younger generation – in essence, establishing a human connection to the brand. In addition, by weaving the launch campaign into existing AARP activities, we helped current and potential members make the association and connection to member benefits while reinforcing a personal affinity with AARP.
The launch campaign followed a three-pronged strategy: 1) building off the strength of the brand, we created the link for the consumer between AARP’s products and offerings, and key campaign messages; 2) we made “real people” from the target audience part of the promotion; and 3) we built a drumbeat of awareness for the national advertising campaign and the launch of new initiatives.
Starting with the new tagline that conveyed the spirit of the campaign: Today’s AARP. Your Choice. Your Voice. Your Attitude, we chose to make the target audience part of the promotion. To capitalize on AARP’s greatest strength – it’s membership – we worked with AARP’s advertising agency, to include real people – AARP members in our target audience – as the “stars” of the ad campaign. This gave us another way to reach out to the media by creating local story angles for the models’ local media. In addition, it gave our target audience a “face” of AARP – one that looked like them, not the older version they may have imagined.
To complement the images, we chose three well-known essayists to convey their thoughts about entering this new stage of life. We enlisted writers Richard Rodriguez and Bob Greene, and activist, Marian Wright Edelman. Their essays were included with the “faces” in an advertising insert that appeared in Newsweek and The New Yorker simultaneous with a dramatic, top-secret launch event.
That event was designed to build a drumbeat of awareness for the national advertising campaign and the launch of new AARP initiatives most attractive to the target audience. From prescription drug coverage to a web-based “life coach” called LifeAnswers to a new partnership with Gateway, AARP showed how it plans to support the brand expansion through these new programs. In addition to the new initiatives, AARP announced a new magazine – My Generation – that will not only go out to AARP members 50-54, but will be sold on newsstands. AARP’s flagship publication, Modern Maturity, will also be re-created in two versions: one for members 55-59, and one for members 60 +.
The dramatic centerpiece of the event, which was kept top-secret until launch day, was to unveil the new advertising campaign, and thus, the new faces of AARP, in a big, dramatic way -- turning the headquarters building into a 10-story tall, eye-popping display of the new faces of AARP. To generate media interest in the event, two weeks prior, media were mailed a teaser postcard, which said: “Today’s AARP. The choice of 34 million members. The voice of today’s 50 + Americans. The attitude to make the most of life after 50. October 2, 2000. Will you be there?” The postcard was accompanied by a disposable camera signifying the “snapshot” of America that became AARP’s advertising campaign.
The weekend prior to the event, the building was “wrapped” with the images from the advertising campaign and then draped with blue tarp to cover the images, keeping them secret from the public. More than 1.25 acres of vinyl mesh material covering nearly two city blocks, and 7,000 feet of cable were used to cover the building. The wrap was printed and constructed by C2Media. Event Strategies, Inc., constructed a stage directly in front of the building with two 9’ X 12’ video walls on either side broadcasting the ceremony. In the center of the stage was a big, red button. Kiosks representing the announced initiatives and featuring the AARP models were displayed in the street so attendees could learn more about the new offerings.
In a dramatic ceremony that was broadcast live by satellite to all AARP’s state offices, executive director Horace Deets announced that the building wrap was “a first for Washington, DC, and this campaign is a first for AARP.” Two of the advertising models spoke to the audience, and in a dramatic ending, the three welcomed the crowd of 1,200 spectators and media to Today’s AARP. At that point, Deets and the models pushed the big, red button, which signaled the drop of the covering tarp to reveal the 10-story tall, full-color images, with the music of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” playing in the background.
Although it is too early to gauge real behavior change, and the launch of Today’s AARP is a small part in an overall brand repositioning campaign, immediate results are impressive. We have successfully penetrated media that do not normally cover AARP, and that influence behavior and trends with the target audience. This event generated media coverage that included a live segment on CBS’ The Early Show, a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition, articles in The Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Times, and other national and local publications resulting in more than 22 million media impressions. But more importantly, media relationships were built by showing a new, dynamic AARP. For example, AARP has formed a long-term relationship with Good Morning America to serve as a resource for framing storylines and conducting research specifically targeted at the 50 + baby boomers, and the program has agreed to air ongoing AARP-branded segments.
Finally, the first measurable trend toward real behavior change is that new memberships through the website have increased by 50%, and hits to the website have increased by 21%. These numbers have sustained since the launch, and appear to be real trends and not just post-event spikes. There have been a number of activities since the launch that have supported the brand campaign and sustained the momentum started with the Today’s AARP event.