AARP and the Unabashed Belief in Print

At 37 million readers, AARP The Magazine is the largest circulated magazine in the U.S., writes Samir Husni is his Mr. Magazine blog. Add to that the close to 30 million readers of the AARP Bulletin, and you have an American print success story in motion.

“Combine the two together and the numbers are a staggering testament to the power of print and its relevant audience, while never ignoring the reach and information the brand’s digital extensions offer,” Husni writes.

The brand finds itself in an interesting position: It is clearly mass market judging by numbers alone, yet niche market in that it appeals to a tightly segmented part of the public. And like the Baby Boomer generation that the magazine exists to serve, the brand is growing, evolving and redefining what it means to age in America.

“With storytelling and vibrant, buoyant features about people and things that interest its very active and affluent audience, AARP proves that the 50-plus readers should not, will not and will never be, defined by a mere number,” Husni notes. “With consumers over 50 in the prime position of not only being able to afford their lifestyles, they can actually revel in them; the magazine is geared toward a group of people who today dominate our country’s wealth, and that is a very good group to gear to. Relevant audience, relevant content; it never fails and it never will.”

All this makes Shelagh Daly Miller, VP of AARP Media, highly optimistic about the magazine’s future.

“I believe that people feel when they join AARP; one of the benefits of their membership is receiving these two publications in their homes, six times per year for the magazine and 10 times per year for the bulletin. I think that if we took that away we would have a great deal of vocal dissent from our members,” Miller told Husni in a recent interview.

This firm faith in print stems from a solid belief in their brand target and how they like to engage, something that all publishers would do well to understand.

“I do believe that if there were more operations embracing who they are and being true to themselves, maybe that’s part of the answer, instead of trying to become something that they’re not, or instead of walking away from their original DNA and what the brand means,” she explains. “Make the brand relevant again to the people who are reading it; don’t try and be relevant to a group of people who aren’t.”

They’ve done this brilliantly through their celebrity-focused covers (Bob Dylan — on the cover of Rolling Stone? Nope, AARP), and a rock solid editorial policy, which, she notes, is key to ad sales.

“Of course, the better the editorial product, the easier it is for us to attract advertisers, so obviously they all work together,” Miller explains. “I’m sure you saw the latest release where our total readership is up almost one million from spring 2016. And it’s the highest readership we’ve had in the magazine’s history, so clearly the editorial is on point.”

One of her biggest frustrations is their stringent ad policy.

“All of our advertisers have to be approved by [the ad policy] team and I would say that advertising rejections from our ad policy team are the biggest frustrations because we literally have people who are out there with their dollars; their wallets opened, ready to spend money and we can’t take their advertising or their money,” she notes.

What a great problem to have, really, and it’s no surprise that Miller thinks other brands have been devaluing themselves for years, in panic mode to adjust to digital technology.

“I don’t know how you shift it back, but I do think that there’s a human nature aspect of, and my parents used to refer to it as something being ‘dear,’ being expensive and important,” she notes. “If we could move the needle back the other way with brands like AARP that are going to stay in the print business, and make them a little bit more costly because of their value, I think that would be terrific.”