Supposed protectors of consumers share a special responsibility for, well, protecting consumers. And not just pubically, but in their out-of-sight direct dealings with consumers. Predatory business practices have no place in their environment. And while a few of my esteemed colleagues might refer to watch dogs taking a nip out of their protectees as “capitalism at work” – and objections to these practices as naive – I happen to think this stuff is outright smarmy. Further, I believe that these “bites” not only injure consumers but boomerang back on the perpetrators of these offenses as well, undercutting their credibility, and ultimately, subtracting from their loyal following.
Let me give you an example. We recently enjoyed a visit from my indomitable mother, who’s 90, legally blind, still travels alone (with some help from any stranger around when she needs it) – and she can rip someone (or something) a new one with the best of ’em. Which is exactly what she did to AARP on her visit. Oh, and for the unitiated and the younger set, AARP is therwise known as the American Association of Retired People, which is now expanding its market niche to include folks over the ripe old retirement threshold of 50.
So here’s her gripe. AARP lends affliliated direct marketers its member list; allows them to market in AARP’s name; and splits the take with these marketers – which is probably why I’ve never found AARP price competitive on anything. But what AARP doesn’t do is what caught her attention.
Curiously, this “watch dog” organization does not require marketing partners to sell only those products and services appropriate for individual members. Ironic for an organization supposedly committed to protecting its constituency from being taken advantage of because of age. To wit, how the hell likely is it that my dear old Mum needs a new AARP credit card? A lot less likely than the chance of a telemarketer copping a commission by selling the card to someone the same age who’s not retained his or her mental acuity. Oh, and how about car insurance? Ninety years old and legally blind? Well, perhaps AARP is too busy marketing its member lists to bother obtaining enough member information to help it steer the right products and services to the right people, if it cared. But whatever the case. Mom is making AARP pay.
As it happens, my mother is an incredible viral marketer. She volunteers at a nursing home. She works with not only patients but their families as well. She has lots of friends (who tend to be younger than she, because of her vitality). And, ‘xuse me Mom, she loves to diss anyone and anything that doesn’t measure up to her standards to anyone who cares, and even some who don’t. And now she’s dissing away. If AARP had ears (I”m afraid it only has a mouth), they’d be buzzing like crazy right now, and for a good long time to come. And a whole lot of folks who just might have considered using AARP’s travel, insurance and financial service products are now going to think twice. Gives a new meaning to “viral” marketing. Just deadly.
So the perpetrators do pay for their sins – at least sometimes. And as for AARP, guess we could change its purpose to “Protecting older people from being taken advantage of – except by AARP.”