I received another recruitment letter the other day from The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the global, non-profit, lobbying, insurance hustling organization for people 50 years and older.

As so many know, AARP is a ritual watershed for anyone in this country with a social security number who has endured 50 years on the planet. It’s also a form fitting straitjacket of a demographic that insists on taking us into its interests whether we are interested or not, and so far 40 million people have succumbed. That’s millions more than the entire population of California.

Anyway, my bulk-rate letter arrived with an exposed window that read, “What’s special about you, JAMES D. ERICSON?” On the surface, this appeared to amount to knowing my legal name, how old I was and where I lived. I didn’t feel special. I half expected a note inside from Ed McMahon and a coupon for a discount colonoscopy.

The envelope went on to answer the question in the window. “Something that could save you hundreds of dollars on your Auto Insurance…plus an upgrade in benefits over what you have now!”

The letter within read that if I’d just go ahead and join AARP I’d qualify for a huge insurance discount.

The trouble is, I am already a member of AARP, complete with an membership card and an onslaught of magazines and offers. This is thanks to a whim that found me sending them $12.50 last year just to see how many counters I could walk up to for a discount. So far I haven’t even looked at their materials but I am officially in their ranks with good standing.

At first I thought this was just another embarrassing data quality problem I should point out to this juggernaut of marketing. How could they own me, patronize me and recruit me all at once at such a waste of paper and postage? I could write about silos and data cleansing and purging lists with third-party marketers. Then I thought different. 


You’ve got to hand it to AARP for a business model that makes them a non-profit, a powerful lobbying group and a busy insurance shill for underwriting partners all at once. We’re talking Medicare supplements, home, life, auto insurance, the list goes on. In AARP TV commercials, actors play cops who literally pull you over to make you enroll in their insurance plans. They promise me big savings without knowing who my insurer is or what I need or what I pay.

They have speaker bureaus and special interest groups, not to mention more than $1 billion in 2007 revenue and a 16 percent growth rate. With 40 million members, you can just imagine the power their enrollment lists bring to market.  And yes, they have a powerful advocacy role, but who sets the agenda?

I can’t figure it out, but it’s a big tent. The far right wing distrusts them for advocating more fiscal entitlements for the elderly, even though they are very “faith friendly” in articles and discussion groups.

And the far left wing resents them for confirming their 60s mistrust of “the man” and for sending them depressing articles on digestive regularity and other constraints of longevity - notwithstanding Dolly Parton’s sage advice on aging (“The second you give up, you’re screwed.”).

Now they’ve got me on their list and they’re slathering me with offers and lobbying on my behalf, even though they have no idea of my beliefs or personal causes. They don’t even know I’m a member.

Maybe data quality isn’t the issue, even though they seem to be selling me on one thing or another all the time. Maybe to not know me is to love me and that’s what makes me special to AARP.

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