In its effort to court baby boomers, AARP has dropped the word “retired” from its name and spiced up its print magazine, running a racy, bare-shouldered shot of Jamie Lee Curtis on its cover. Now, with its target boomer audience increasingly online, the lobbying organization for older Americans is making another attempt to connect with that reader.
A newly redesigned Web site, AARP.org, adds personal growth, sex and relationship, and tech channels. In June, AARP will introduce its first app for the iPhone and iPad, a free news app. It also will roll out digital versions of AARP The Magazine and its other publications using Texterity’s platform.
AARP represents the entire 50-plus market, but the strategy is aimed squarely at its younger constituency. Boomers accounted for 24 percent of all U.S. Internet users last fall, per comScore, with younger boomers making up two-thirds of those users.
“Our membership has changed over the years,” explained Kevin Donnellan, evp, chief communications officer of AARP and the architect of the strategy. “We have more boomers than any other organization. So [the goal] was also making sure we were changing the way we do business so we would continue to be relevant.”
AARP is adding more modern touches to its core print product, the biggest changes since 2002, when it combined Modern Maturity and My Generation into the current title.
With its membership-based distribution model, AARP The Magazine boasts more than 35 million readers, making it one of the largest magazines in the U.S. But it’s struggled to attract advertising. Ad pages fell 22.3 percent to 208 in 2009, declining slightly less than the magazine industry overall, per Publishers Information Bureau.
In recent months, the bimonthly has begun to shift away from portrait to more lively environmental cover shots. With the October/September issue, it will add more travel and relationship content and new columnists including Dr. Mehmet Oz and Jane Pauley.
“It’s a complete facelift of the magazine,” Donnellan said, without irony.
However, Paul Woolmington, founding partner of brand agency Naked Communications, believes the generation AARP is trying to reach with these initiatives is too contemporary in attitude and lifestyle to be well served by such an organization, with its longstanding association with the aging. “It’s a club I wouldn’t want to be a member of,” he said. “I feel the term AARP needs to be overhauled.”
While aiming younger, AARP also is reaching wider. It’s launching a new series of products under the AARP Viva umbrella name, aimed at its growing Hispanic membership. Those include AARP VIVA su Segunda Juventud, a quarterly bilingual magazine, along with Spanish-language TV talk and radio shows. A Spanish-language version of AARP.org is due out in June.
“Traditionally we’ve been very strong with the white audience,” Donnellan said. “Our opportunity is being able to diversify.”