AARP attempting to attract more Hispanic members with new ads, magazine

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ AARP? Never heard of it, said the retired Mexican-American woman.

``Is that from the union?'' asked Mary De La O, a former cannery worker, as she visited with friends recently at the Hank Lopez Community Center. ``I don't know what that is.'' Her perplexed expression was reflected in the faces of other Hispanic seniors around the table.

For AARP, the 35 million-member group that lobbies and provides services for people 50 and over, scenes like that are too common.

Realizing it has largely missed the growing number of over-50 Hispanics with broad-based recruiting, the group is in the early stages of a campaign aimed specifically at attracting new Hispanic members.

Later this month, AARP plans to air Spanish-language television and radio commercials in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, following up an initial round of ads last fall.

It recently added Spanish-speaking staffers in four states and, in the next few months, hopes to create a bilingual Web site. Last fall, it sent 1.4 million recruitment letters to Hispanic households.

``This current boomer generation is more multicultural than any generation before,'' said Nancy Franklin, AARP's director of membership development. ``Any organization that wants to be relevant in the future'' needs to adapt.

While AARP is concentrating on California, New York, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, eventually it will expand its efforts nationwide.

``The image has been that it's a middle-class, middle-America organization,'' said demographer Martha Farnsworth Riche, a former head of the Census Bureau. With Hispanics, AARP realizes they ``are going to become a large market, and so they're paying attention to them now.''

AARP is also beginning to take greater notice of black Americans, and has started to plan a campaign aimed at them. For now, the Hispanic drive is getting into full swing.

Hispanics may not have heard of AARP because the group has offered only limited information in Spanish, and _ for first-generation immigrants _ there are no comparable organizations in their countries of origin, Franklin said.

AARP estimates the population of Hispanics aged 50 and up could almost triple to about 17 million by 2025. That projected increase is by far the largest growth rate of any ethnic group, it says.

Marta Sotomayor, president of the Washington-based National Hispanic Council on Aging, said AARP has attracted middle-class people willing to pay its $12.50 annual membership fee and interested in the services and discounts it offers. But many Hispanics don't fall into that category because they're lower on the economic ladder, she said.

``It's a different population group,'' she said. ``It probably will attract the older Hispanic that has some kind of extra income to spend that way.''

What AARP calls its ``Hispanic initiative'' began with an inventory of how the organization serves Hispanics. Only about 2 percent of households with AARP members are Hispanic, though Hispanics make up about 6 percent of those 50 and over.

AARP's television commercials show images of Hispanics photographing pyramids in Mexico, climbing mountains and playing a lively game of dominos in Puerto Rico. A voice recites excerpts in Spanish from a popular Hispanic poem, then concludes by saying, ``AARP _ the second youth is better than the first,'' said Horacio Gomes, president and chief executive of HeadQuarters Advertising, which created the commercials.

Segunda Juventud, or second youth, is also the title of AARP's new bilingual newsmagazine, which features articles in Spanish alongside summaries in English.

Sotomayor said the Hispanic membership drive makes sense to her. ``It seems to me they have no choice,'' she said. ``Because that's where the population is growing and growing.''