Over the course of Thanksgiving week I traveled about 600 miles.  From our house in Natick, Massachusetts to my parents’ house in Northern New Jersey, out to a college visit in Pennsylvania and then back to Natick again.

At the end of this odyssey I arrived home to find an unmarked envelope in my mail.  You know, the kind with no sender identified in the return address.

I thought it might be an updated credit card that the issuer did not want to call attention to in the mail.

But no, it was my AARP card.

Yes, I have hit the half-century mark and this was the undeniable proof.  Other signs were already there:

  • I have one-third as many Facebook friends as my high-school aged kids do.
  • I use my cell phone to actually talk to other humans.
  • I send handwritten notes.
  • I read hard copy books.

My reaction to receiving the card was “okay, I knew this was coming and I still don’t like it.”

Searching online, I found that Michelle Obama had touted her newly received card on January 14, 2014 by tweeting it on Twitter.  Several major news outlets reported the story.

FLOTUS AARP Card Announcement Brands That Need Image Help

AARP’s image in my mind was that of a discount purveyor and advocate for older people (as in older than me).  Faced with a membership offer for $16 per year, I decided to learn more about the organization.

My first stop was the AARP About page on their website.  Here’s how the group introduces themselves:

“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.”

A 45-word opening sentence and brand statement.  I began to research the brand to see if they put their money where their mouth is.

What I found is that they put their money where their money is.

The first thing I noticed on their website home page was a feature article entitled “Get in Shape for Great S*x.”  (I know you can handle the title, but my kids read this.  And the e-newsletter services have a cow when you include that word.)

The article wasn’t the problem.

AARP website advertising 2015-12-03Just below feature article was a listing of “hot deals.”   Insurance, wireless service, credit cards, roadside assistance.  All AARP endorsed.  All paying AARP for the endorsement.

My favorite was the Official Taylor Swift Gifts.  Because Taylor Swift gifts are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the 50+ set.

Next up was a bit of Googling.  It turns out that AARP gets a 4.95 percent royalty every time someone buys Medigap insurance via their branded Medigap offering.  That royalty alone brings in hundreds of millions of dollars.  Combined with the offers above and others, the group pulls in half of its $1.44 billion in revenue.

“Non-profit.”  Really?

The real kicker was when I found AARP’s Thank You page which thanked people for submitting their request to opt out of AARP’s emails.  The page said that it takes up to 12 weeks for the request to take effect.

Twelve weeks!  That’s a cyber eternity.

Usually when people opt out of emails they are already fed up.  Having to wait another 12 weeks seemed inconsiderate and unnecessary to me.  Indeed the page included irate comments from members who complained of breached confidentiality, large quantities of spam and piles of junk mail.

Moreover, in their privacy policy they state that they share members’ emails with third-party vendors and that any vendor who had their contact information would require a separate and direct opt out request.

Given the number of partners they have just from the offers on their website, I can only imagine the number of vendors that AARP sells their lists to.

These policies and practices seem less in service of their members and more in service of their business partners who will have at least 12 weeks to profit from shared contact information.

I wonder if they are spamming Michelle Obama.

As for me, I did not need to read anything further.  The AARP brand was not the non-profit advocate that they claimed to be but a disingenuous marketing machine charging people $16 each year to profit from sharing their information.

The brands we choose reflect who we are.  Brands are self-expression by association.

AARP doesn’t get that.  I don’t care if they are trying to be hip by offering Taylor Swift gifts and posting articles about s*x.  I don’t want to be associated with a disingenuous brand who would sell me out.

That’s not who I am.

Have you received your AARP card yet?  Tell me about your experience in the comments.

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