With 38 million members, AARP is one of the largest membership organizations in the world, but it’s also a major publisher with a huge audience. Now, the nonprofit group is opening its enhanced audience targeting capabilities to all advertisers.
The organization, which operates AARP.org and email newsletters along with its core print publications, has compiled an ad network of sorts by partnering with around 600 sites often visited by the 50-plus crowd. Those include Grandparents.com and personal finance site Kiplinger.
The idea is to put the group's proprietary data to use to create broader reach for advertisers outside AARP.org. Advertisers that have tested the system include Aetna, GNC, Harper Collins, JPMorgan Chase, Starwood Hotels, UnitedHealthcare, Walmart, and La Quinta Inns and Suites.
While the AARP membership - a powerful voting bloc - may seem especially attractive to political and advocacy advertisers, it is illegal for the group as a nonprofit to be affiliated with any political organizations.
"There's been more advertiser demand than we've got supply of inventory," said Peter Zeuschner, northeastern advertising manager for AARP. The system, in beta for about six months, combines AARP data with Scarborough Research data and demographic data to segment members into categories such as people in their 50s with kids in the household, or empty nesters in their 60s.
In addition to accessing inventory on partner sites, AARP is targeting through ad networks, said Zeuschner. In its own digital properties, the group offers display and in-stream video ads, microsites, and email newsletter ads.
"They've taken the opportunity to use their member base to try to get some differentiation into the 50-plus market," said Amy Bartle, director of media and digital marketing for La Quinta. To drive consideration and bookings during the summer travel season, the hotel chain ran display ads from May through September targeting AARP members identified as likely to travel.
"Not everybody over the age of 50 travels," said Bartle, so targeting by age through ad networks can sometimes be too broad. La Quinta is planning to work with AARP again in 2012.
The "audience extension," as AARP calls it, could be considered a late entry to the vertical ad network field, which exploded around three years ago as well-known media brands such as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia partnered with smaller sites to form networks targeting niche audiences.
In general terms, AARP categorizes its members into three segments: those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. "More than half of the folks in the 50s segments have kids in their households," said Zeuschner. "They're very much part of the workforce." Members in their 60s tend to be more interested in travel and often have more money to spend. Seventy-somethings are in the retirement phase of life and typically are concerned with their finances and health, he said. AARP produces different versions of its print magazine tailored to each group.
A selling point for AARP.org, suggested Zeuschner, is the slightly more focused mindset of site visitors. "If nothing else they're acknowledging that they're 50-plus if they visit the site,' he said. “It's a life-stage mindset."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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