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How do you say that name? Rrrh-ph.

Brand Education

September 24, 2014

AARP (a.k.a. American Association of Retired People). I don’t get it…the name, the brand strategy or the campaign.

To begin with a name is fundamentally important to a brand; and one could argue it is the most important element (and enormous asset). It typically creates an emotional connection or disconnection in the buyer’s mind. Think about it. When you hear a name that sounds drab, generic, or run-of-the-mill (e.g. First Third Bank, National Cleaning Services, CompUSA, Ameritech) you don’t respond with much enthusiasm. Conversely when you hear a name that sounds cool, different, or expressive (e.g. Apple, Mini, Wii, Diesel, Spanx) you want to connect with it or learn more about it.

That’s why it’s important to get it right. Effective brand names are usually emotional, sticky, or distinct; and convey personality. One piece of naming advice Tag would give any organization is to avoid alphabet soup because names composed of initials are meaningless. They get lost in marketplace clutter and they are costly to support and promote.

That’s why the AARP rebrand caught my attention. It not only has an alphabet soup makeup, the pronunciation is odd. Say it: Aarp. Doesn’t roll off the tongue does it?

The rebrand is said to cost somewhere between $25 million to $30 million. And it’s not just the name I disagree with…it’s the strategy and campaign too.

I understand the challenges the AARP faces as a brand. 70 is the new 60. 60 is the new 50. And so on. The world has changed. We look, act, and feel younger than our parents did or their parents did. So, the AARP is trying to re-position the concept of age as something cool, enlightened, and hopeful.

AARP don't knowBut pretending like the AARP (Dare I say it again? American Association of Retired People) doesn’t serve the aging population is disingenuous. And the campaign isn’t helping. “If you don’t think real possibilities when you think aarp, then you don’t know aarp.” Seems like they are saying: Hey clueless, where have you been? (Not very connective.)

On a positive note, the website dedicated to the campaign provides useful resources in an easy-to-read format.

Apparently in this iteration, the AARP is committing itself to helping members achieve real possibilities by saying, “An Ally for Real Possibilities.” Acronym for AARP. They believe people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living a new life stage—the age of possibility. I think that sounds like marketing hype and you can’t build a brand on that.

Here’s another issue. It seems the AARP is trying to be all things to all people. Just read their “about us” statement. AARP is 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. We advocate for consumers in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services.

Like many brands, for profit or nonprofit, the AARP needed to re-evaluate the relevance and purpose of its brand, but had trouble letting go of the equity in its name. So they forced a round peg into a square hole and ended up with “aarp” and built a campaign around it.

I believe the AARP needs to find its point of difference and adopt a focused brand strategy that can accomplish its goals while being is authentic. Renaming can be painful in the short term, but it pays off big in the long term.

Take note of United Way, and the focus of it’s positioning and campaign–Live United. This is a great example of a name, strategy and campaign in harmony. And the simplicity is beautiful. Show the world you LIVE UNITED. LIVE UNITED. It’s a credo. A mission. A goal. A constant reminder that when we reach out a hand to one, we influence the condition of all. We build the strength of our neighborhoods. We bolster the health of our communities. And we change the lives of those who walk by us every day.

Very focused. A job well done.

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