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AARP magazine targets ’new 50’

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2007

"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 high-tech 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 stay-at-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 20- and 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."