AARP Foundation is a charitable affiliate of AARP. The Foundation works to ensure that low-income, vulnerable older adults have access to nutritious food, affordable housing, a steady income, and strong social bonds. Today, the Foundation relies on and fosters partnerships with organizations who share its commitment to creating and advancing solutions that can help struggling older adults transform their lives.
In 2011, AARP Foundation was at a crossroads. Having completed a strategic plan that informed a new vision and mission, the organization looked to Hager Sharp for help executing a communications strategy. The goal: Increase awareness of the Foundation’s new priorities and garnish support for its mission.
We began by conducting in-depth formative research with key audiences. Findings in hand, we worked with the Foundation’s communications team to create a campaign and supporting suite of materials for audiences including donors, influencers, and recipients. In partnership with the team, our communications support ranged from strategic counsel and partnership outreach to materials development and digital engagement to event marketing and internal communications.
AARP Foundation realized it needed to embrace the recognition and thought leadership obtained from its role as an extension of AARP, while positioning itself as a separate nonprofit. We began the planning process with the goal of aligning the Foundation brand with the credibility of the AARP brand, while creating a specific message and positioning platform that could elicit a more emotional response from donors, influencers, and recipients.
After months of formative research including literature reviews, focus groups, and individual interviews, we developed the brand platform: “Winning back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by focusing on four priority areas: hunger, income, housing, and isolation.” It was a platform that was unique enough for the Foundation and worked across all audiences. Donors and influencers understood that many of us might get hit with crises we did not see coming or prepare for. Struggling seniors didn’t want a handout—they were looking for organizations that could take the lead and work with them to create opportunities that could help get their lives back on track.
From this platform, key messages, a visual identity, and a brand framework followed. We then worked to refine, update, and align branding and messaging to the Foundation’s strategic plan.
As the communications campaign raised awareness of its new vision and mission, AARP Foundation found itself involved in numerous projects and programs through different partnerships. While a benefit to potential recipients, the variety of unique names, messages, and visual components of the individual initiatives threatened to dilute the new Foundation brand and erode its credibility.
Our response was to develop a new logo with greater emphasis on the word “Foundation.” We also created a visual brand hierarchy and guidelines to ensure the growing group of partnership sub-brands continued to align with the parent brand (the Foundation). This hierarchy included three different designations for sub-brands: Programs, which would receive a minimalistic visual treatment, as they were new with very little recognition; Sub-brands, which were allowed a slightly more elaborate logo treatment, as they were established programs; and Initiatives, which were usually established with well-known external partners and their brands, and therefore needed the flexibility to work within Foundation and external partner brand guidelines.
At the heart of Hager Sharp’s work to establish the AARP Foundation brand was a set of stories showing real people 50+ facing serious challenges in today’s society. These stories informed the visual identity for the organization that better reflected the image of winning back opportunity for struggling aging Americans.
From the development of AARP The Magazine advertisements to the production of creative assets for AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+ initiative (in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor) to the coordination of materials for the Million Meal Pack on the National Mall to developing and promoting the Case for Giving white paper to help AARP members and donors understand the Foundation’s focus, we worked with AARP Foundation to create compelling narratives that connected with the Foundation’s most important audiences.
We also provided creative development support to programs such as Drive to End Hunger, an initiative supported by four-time NASCAR Cup winner Jeff Gordon and his team, for which we produced print ads for USA Today, print and interactive versions of annual reports, and highly-shared social media assets promoting the initiative.
AARP Foundation uses events and conferences as strategic channels for engaging potential partners and donors, as well as for raising awareness of the Foundation’s mission and programs. For the Foundation’s presence at events such as AARP’s annual Life@50+ conferences and the popular Movies for Grownups events, we wrote speeches, created presentations, and developed promotional materials, as most attendees to these events were key donor audiences.
On a larger scale, we developed the messaging, branding, and promotional materials, including internet radio ads, newspaper ads, web banners, and guerilla marketing for AARP Foundation’s flagship service event, A Celebration of Service. This was a volunteer meal-packing event on the National Mall to support hungry and food-insecure older adults across the Washington, D.C. region through a collaboration with the Capital Area Food Bank. A Celebration of Service took place on 9/11, the National Day of Service, for three consecutive years, providing more than three million meals.
Hager Sharp also has a history of developing culturally-appropriate messages and creative materials to effectively reach and influence a variety of audiences.
With AARP Foundation, Hager Sharp supported the Foundation’s hunger team’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive work, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that incentivizes those receiving SNAP benefits to purchase more fruits and vegetables with their benefits card. Hager Sharp created the program’s name, promotional materials, and creative assets in both English and Spanish to help those enrolled in the program stretch their healthy food dollars.
We also had the pleasure of supporting the Foundation’s partnership with LATINO Magazine and their No Mas Hombre event. Through a series of ad placements in LATINO Magazine, Hager Sharp and AARP Foundation helped to increase awareness around food security issues amongst Latino families and promote a new digital SNAP toolkit through which those struggling with food security could enroll in the food assistance program.
AARP Foundation fosters and relies on support from and partnerships with a variety of companies and institutions. These include UnitedHealthcare, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Chase Bank, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Walmart Foundation, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Hager Sharp provided strategic guidance, developed materials, created media plans, and trafficked advertisements in support of many partnerships, including through Tax-Aide, the Foundation’s initiative with the Internal Revenue Service to provide free tax services to underserved seniors.
AARP Foundation also partnered with the Miami Dolphins on a food insecurity initiative focused on older adults in south Florida. Hager Sharp’s support for this years-long initiative included promotional print and video materials that ran in the Dolphins stadium and on south Florida media channels; event support for the south Florida Million Meal Pack; and social media support to raise awareness of food insecurity issues among the elderly in south Florida, as well as generate support for the Dolphins/Foundation partnership goals.
Formative Research: At the start of our engagement, AARP Foundation faced a critical question: How does it generate support for the Foundation’s updated mission of securing the essentials for vulnerable older adults while leveraging its relationship to AARP?
After in-depth research, stakeholder interviews, and a thorough environmental scan, we learned that those 50 and older understand what it means to struggle. They know what it is like to be part of the “sandwich generation” and are increasingly sympathetic to those in their generation who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. This led to a pivotal insight: No one wants a handout, but everyone wants an opportunity to move forward. Ultimately, AARP and AARP Foundation shared a common champion storyline, with the Foundation working to secure the opportunities that made real possibilities a reality for all Americans 50+.
Using this insight as a launch pad, we developed the brand platform: “Winning back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+.” We then crafted a video, message architecture, and visual identity to apply this platform across channels.
Evaluation: Four years after our work began, awareness and familiarity with AARP Foundation and its mission has increased by as much as 47%, Drive to End Hunger has nearly tripled the number of meals donated, and SNAP donations have increased locally by a third.