AARP mag­a­zine tar­gets ‘new 50’; boomers spur ‘youth’ move­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By An­drea Billups

“Se­crets of Your Sex Drive,” “Ten Ways to Look 10 Pounds Thin­ner” and “Fol­low Your Dream — Find the Per­fect Job Now.”

Sound like the cover of Cos­mopoli­tan mag­a­zine? Or maybe Men’s Health? Think again. Those sto­ries lead the latest is­sue of AARP — The Mag­a­zine, which isn’t just for grandma and grandpa any­more.

Inside the mag­a­zine are pieces on the Rev. Billy Gra­ham, ex­plor­ing the rain for­est and the coolest high­tech gifts, all a part of the mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion’s latest ef­forts at shift­ing its brand ap­peal to the younger 50s set.

While it was founded a half-cen­tury ago for re­tirees, the post-mil­len­nial AARP is busy aiming its publi­ca­tions, prod­ucts and ser­vices like never be­fore at the mil­lions of baby boomers who are not only ac­tive, fit and ca­reer-minded, but who are rock­ing the de­mo­graph­ics in nearly ev­ery con­sumer mar­ket na­tion­wide.

“We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a lot of change in our so­ci­ety,” says Emilio Pardo, the AARP’s chief brand of­fi­cer who is lead­ing ef­forts to at­tract a younger and highly en­gaged clien­tele, which he calls “the new 50.” “In many ways, you have not only boomers redefin­ing re­tire­ment but also redefin­ing life stages.”

Mr. Pardo, 45, says the AARP, which is set to turn 50 next year, is chang­ing its fo­cus with the times. For ex­am­ple, he says, a 50-year-old wo­man to­day could be be­com­ing a grand­mother for the first time, could be a re­cent mother for the first time or could even be headed back to school and a new ca­reer af­ter years of rais­ing a fam­ily.

“All th­ese women are 50, but they are in very dif­fer­ent stages of theirs lives and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 50 for them­selves in a way many other Amer­i­cans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it,” he says. “It’s about life stages more than age. That’s a big change, and it’s at­ti­tude ver­sus age and life stage. We are break­ing all of those pre­con­ceived no­tions and stereo­types as we are liv­ing longer and liv­ing a fuller life.”

Deb­o­rah Quin­nan, 46, says she reads AARP’s mag­a­zine. Al­though she is a few years shy of the el­i­gi­ble mem­ber­ship age of 50, she says she was sur­prised to dis­cover the pub­li­ca­tion ap­peals to her mind-set. Af­ter rais­ing five chil­dren as a stayat-home mom — her youngest is 15 — she re­cently started a new ca­reer as an aes­theti­cian, work­ing at an up­scale day spa in Lans­ing, Mich.

Al­though she wor­ries about re­tire­ment, she is in no way look­ing ahead as a time to slow down, but rather to get in­volved in not only her work but also in her com­mu­nity.

“When I first saw it in the mail, I said ‘What are we get­ting this old per­son’s mag­a­zine for?’ But the ar­ti­cles were good and to­tally draw my at­ten­tion,” she says of the AARP mag­a­zine’s ap­peal. “I feel young and I’m not on a tra­di­tional path. I’m go­ing to be work­ing for a long time. But the older I get, the more I care about things that can help max­i­mize my life po­ten­tial — now. They have in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries of peo­ple who are mak­ing that hap­pen.”

Ted Spiker, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Florida and a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor at Men’s Health mag­a­zine, said the 50s set is hardly what it used to be and un­der­stands AARP’s moves. At his gym each morn­ing, there is a pickup bas­ket­ball game of 40- and 50-some­things with play­ers who “look as fit and strong if not more so than many of the 20-year-olds” who also are there. “The older folks are in great shape, and the younger folks are not in great shape. It’s an in­ter­est­ing shift.”

Mr. Spiker, whose mag­a­zine job is for a pub­li­ca­tion de­voted to 20and 30-some­things, says the mo­ti­va­tion fac­tor is dif­fer­ent across age groups, but he ob­serves that 50 to­day is still pow­er­ful for many and hardly a drop-off point for the re­tire­ment set.

“In our 20s, our goals are sur­face level and they in­volve look­ing bet­ter to at­tract the op­po­site sex. Health and well-be­ing is not high on our pri­or­ity list,” Mr. Spiker says. “In our 50s, while there may be some van­ity is­sues, the No. 1 goal is feel­ing healthy and stay­ing strong,” with many 50-some­things in­creas­ingly de­voted to that.

“Now, be­ing hot,” he says with a laugh, “is the new side ef­fect.”

Mr. Spiker’s ob­ser­va­tion is no doubt mu­sic to the ears of the AARP, which says its re­brand­ing strat­egy has caught the eye of the boomer seg­ment.

While the as­so­ci­a­tion did not pro­vide num­bers track­ing its mem­ber­ship growth among baby boomers, it said that of the AARP’s 39 mil­lion mem­bers, 35 per­cent are from the 50-60 boomer age bracket, and that 49 per­cent of that group works full time.

“Th­ese re­brand­ing ef­forts have ac­tu­ally made it much eas­ier for us to at­tract boomers,” said Adam Sohn, the AARP’s as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of me­dia re­la­tions. “Our mag­a­zine touches sub­jects so broad, from sex af­ter 50, to the best tech gifts, to how to rein­vent your­self in the sec­ond half of life, that our mem­bers find them­selves re­liant on the in­for­ma­tion we of­fer be­cause it’s so re­lat­able to them.”

Since 2000, the mag­a­zine’s read­er­ship has grown 100 per­cent, with the pub­li­ca­tion reach­ing nearly 23 mil­lion house­holds na­tion­wide at a time when many publi­ca­tions are los­ing read­er­ship.

“That tells you a lot about the needs of our mem­ber­ship,” Mr. Pardo says. “That’s a huge shift in our so­ci­ety, and we have to adapt to our mem­ber­ship needs.”

Of­ten, those are at the ends of the age spec­trum, with the AARP fo­cused on key is­sues such as lob­by­ing to pro­tect So­cial Se­cu­rity at the same time it is work­ing to im­prove health care cov­er­age for chil­dren, he said. It also has cre­ated pub­lic aware­ness pro­grams and ad cam­paigns based on is­sues such as driver safety and iden­tity theft, as well as care­giv­ing, which is of in­creas­ing con­cern.

Early next year, as a part of the re­brand­ing strat­egy, the AARP will put up a re­designed and re­worked Web site in re­sponse to the boomer growth. The Web site will in­clude “dy­namic so­cial net­work­ing fea­tures that of­fer our mem­bers new ways to con­nect with each other as well as to the in­for­ma­tion they’ve come to ex­pect from us,” Mr. Sohn says.

Mr. Pardo added: “We want to make sure our mem­bers are get­ting the best in­for­ma­tion. There are 77 to 78 mil­lion boomers in Amer­ica to­day. We have a lot of room po­ten­tially to grow.”

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