AARP is trying to reach viewers in their 50s by sponsoring “Our Generation,” the new History Channel series premiering this week that looks at the seminal events of the 1960s and ’70s.
Both the network and the sponsor are in pursuit of active baby boomers as they seek to dispel perceptions that they appeal solely to retired older folks who are interested in reliving World War II.
Each episode of “Our Generation,” which premieres Friday, focuses on a historical event that defined the boomers, such as the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, the 1970 shootings of students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard and the sexual revolution.
The series is hosted by History Channel resident historian Steve Gillon, the author of “Boomer Nation.” Mr. Gillon is also an advisor to the AARP, a fact that helped convince the AARP to get involved in the project.
“Our Generation” was not shown to advertisers at History Channel’s upfront. Instead it was presented as a concept to AARP and its ad agency GSD&M, said Amy Baker, senior VP of ad sales for the network. “It seemed to have the elements that AARP was looking for,” she said. “Steve Gillon totally understands where AARP is going, what their needs are and obviously totally understands what the History Channel is all about.”
While the AARP has participated in other marketing partnerships, “This one is more unique because of the collaboration we’ve had,” said Emilio Pardo, chief brand officer for the group. AARP officers sat down with History Channel staffers and Mr. Gillon to help select topics for the show. Mr. Gillon also used AARP research in assembling the programs.
History Channel retained creative control over the project. “They’re not looking at rough cuts; they’re not involved in the production,” said Charlie Maday, senior VP of programming for the network.
The AARP’s sponsorship deal involves multiple platforms. As part of the seven-figure, full-year ad buy, AARP will run 30-second spots during the show. For the first time in the network’s history, a sponsor will be included in the show’s title sequence. A five-second AARP bug will also appear at the bottom of the screen during the show. Bumpers will pose boomer history trivia questions.
The network has also created 30-second units that combine the AARP’s message with promotion of the show. “It’s really taking their brand and tying it directly into what `My Generation’ is all about,” Ms. Baker said.
The network will be pushing viewers toward an AARP-sponsored Web site that will feature social-networking tools for boomers, including a blog by Mr. Gillon, chat rooms and message boards.
The show will be promoted by the AARP with ads and features in its widely circulated magazine and newsletter, and Mr. Gillon will preview the first episode this week at the AARP’s national convention.
The show is the AARP’s biggest marketing commitment for the fourth quarter. People as young as 50 are eligible to join the organization, and Mr. Pardo thinks the series will engage boomers by forging an emotional connection. “Fifty to 59 is a very important segment. They are redefining what it means to retire and we need to pay attention to those new needs,” he said, noting that 49 percent of AARP’s 37 million members are still working.
The show is unusual for History Channel because it is 30 minutes long; most of the network’s prime-time programs are hours. The show will air in the 7 p.m. (ET) time slot, replacing reruns of “Modern Marvels.” In the first week, two episodes will air back-to-back; after that it will be followed by “Mail Call,” the network’s only other 30-minute show. “We’re talking about developing some half-hours, and hopefully they’ll be as good as this one,” Mr. Maday said. “We didn’t want to do just a VH1 treatment, like `The ’60s,’ `The ’70s,’ but do something more fitting to the History Channel, more serious, with some analysis, some thought given to the meaning of this”
Usually when History Channel looks at relatively recent events, they are military topics. “We know the audience is there for current events that are related to the Iraq war and Saddam Hussein. We’re not quite as sure about social history, but I think this is going to do quite well,” Mr. Maday said.
He expects viewership to be concentrated in the 44- to 55-year-old age range, and that it will be a little more female than the network’s usual male skew.
The network has been firmly involved in the trend of getting marketers more integrated into programming. Last week it aired “Into the Fire,” a special underwritten by the Fireman’s Fund insurance company.
“Clearly this is the way of the future,” said Ms. Baker. “This is a way to break through the clutter, this is a way to tap into engagement. This is what every advertiser wants to get their arms around. This is a way to totally interact with our viewers, no matter where they go, whether it’s online, on-air, at conventions.”