Re-branding Strategy Case Study: AARP Embraces the Possibilities

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How AARP Successfully Capitalizes on “Real Possibilities” in Its Advertising

Re-branding Case Study: AARP

The history: Founded in 1958 by a retired high school principal, AARP describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment security and retirement planning.” Note: the bolded emphasis is ours…we’ll come back to it in a moment.

The challenge: Anyone who’s reached the half-century mark has probably experienced jokes and jabs that poke fun at this milestone age. (Think “over the hill” cracks accompanied by party-store gag gifts.)

So how does an organization that focuses on the 50+ crowd market to these folks without sounding like old fogies themselves (and making their members feel like old fogies)? By embracing and promoting all the benefits, wonders, and wisdom that comes when you reach this age. And that’s exactly what AARP has done with its recent re-branding campaign.

The re-branding process: In an effort to appear more contemporary, AARP launched its new campaign during the Grammy’s in February. According to this article in The New York Times, the re-brand cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to $30 million and the focus is on the theme “Real Possibilities.” In addition to ads, you’ll see this theme play out in social media, digital media, print materials, and the company website (including the text we bolded above, which was taken from the “about” section). AARP also has a microsite dedicated specifically to this theme.

The idea behind real possibilities is that age is just a number and that many, many people (i.e. AARP’s audience) don’t necessarily peak in their 20s but rather later in life when they have more experience and wisdom under their belt. In other words, the possibilities don’t decrease with age…they increase. In a press release issued by the organization in February, Emilio Pardo, executive vice president and chief brand officer of AARP, said, “Possibilities are critical to this audience and millions of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living in a new life stage—the age of possibility.”

For one of the TV spots (embedded below), AARP quickly gets this point across by citing well-known names (e.g. Julia Child, Picasso) and noting that their greatest work occurred after 50. The voice-over plays over images of a 50-something woman running her first marathon.

From there, AARP does something clever: it commits itself to helping members achieve these real possibilities by saying, “An Ally for Real Possibilities.” Notice the acronym there. Yep: AARP. Brilliant! (Kudos to AARP’s advertising agency Grey New York.)

This re-branded acronym helps combat some of the other negative image problems that AARP has faced over the years, specifically around the word “retired” (it’s one of the reasons why AARP only uses four letters as its official name now; it stopped using American Association of Retired Persons in 1999). Some of the more positive images for the “R” word include “richer,” “realizing,” and “rewards.”

Marketing takeaway and how you can leverage this strategy in your own business: Revisit those “negatives” about your business and see if you can re-position them as something positive. For AARP, it involved embracing the collective ages of its members and steering reactions away from the typical adjectives people might use, such as “old” or even “retired,” and re-positioning the concept of age as something cool, enlightened, and hopeful.

If you’re able to turn a negative into a positive, it could be a great way to breathe new life into your marketing strategy. But note that it’s a full-on commitment: you can’t just talk about it once. It’s something you’d need to embrace across all media and in all of your marketing and PR efforts.

What do you think of AARP’s new campaign? Have you ever used this strategy of re-inventing a “negative” and turning it into a positive? Share in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Re-branding Strategy Case Study: AARP Embraces the Possibilities

  1. Allison, a wonderful, passionate, well-researched review of AARP’s rebranding. I quoted you, with attribution, as part of a video with AARP’s Oregon director, Jerry Cohen:

    I also embedded an AARP :30 TV spot within the context of the video, to further drive Jerry’s points home.

    Speaking of a “strategy of re-inventing a ‘negative’ and turning it into a positive,” the pronunciation of A-A-R-P has changed to the old formally unacceptable slang version of ARRE-puh. I still have NOT figured out how to write that phonetically; however, check out the video, please, and help me out, as I’d appreciate suggestions as to how to get it write. Right?

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