Percentage of consumers who favor corporate involvement in --

Youth training programs 45%

Stay-in-school programs 40

Improving public schools 36

Environmental cleanup 36

Drug outreach 28

Health education 28

Improving parks and libraries 25

Fund-raising for charities 13

Sponsoring cultural events 9

Source: "The Progression of Cause-Related Marketing: A Benchmark Study," conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, for Cone Communications, Boston, November 1993.

One of the first real studies of cause-related marketing (see above) revealed plenty of consumer ambivalence. The 2,000-odd respondents said companies should help improve public education, for example. Yet consumers were not very likely to buy a product or switch brands solely because of a company's good deeds.

There's an upside for small companies, though. Consumers indicated support for companies that commit (for more than a year) to local causes. It's OK to brag a little via ads and special events once your company is part of the community, the responses implied. Just keep your salespeople out of it -- they were deemed the least effective in getting the word out. Donating money to a cause rated as the most believable way to show you care.

Here are two smart (and subtle) takes on cause-related marketing:

Fresh Choice, a family-restaurant chain with locations in California, Washington, and Texas, sponsors school fund-raisers that double as new-store promotions. Months in advance, Fresh Choice selects local schools to host two preopening parties. Students sell dinner tickets, raising from $2,200 to $3,200 for their schools. The restaurant spends just $1,200 per event on food to make a very favorable impression on the local community.

Five years ago Micrografx, a software developer in Richardson, Tex., launched an industrywide "chili cook-off" to benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Thousands of industry insiders and Micrografx VIP customers now attend the annual bash at the fall Comdex trade show. Sixty sponsors, including IBM, have raised $1.3 million in cash and in kind over the past three years.

"It's not part of our mainstream marketing effort," says chairman J. Paul Grayson, "but it adds value to our positioning and makes our brand more visible. And there's the cachet; it makes us seem like a bigger company. People remember the event fondly."

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