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Dodge has been sponsoring rodeos for 18 years. But it didn't begin turning the events into two-way marketing opportunities until recently.

Like many early event sponsors, the DaimlerChrysler division used to worry mainly about how many signs it had around the arena and how many people attended. "We got our message out there, but nothing was coming back," concedes Jim Yetter, director of car and truck communications.

That's all changed. Thanks in part to computer technology, Dodge now fine-tunes sponsorships and events to ensure two-way communications. These days it has booths at the rodeos where prospects can talk to Dodge marketing and product specialists and fill out business reply cards to get more information.

"We take the names and put them in our database," Yetter says. "If they are going to buy a car in four years, we want to talk to them for four years until they buy one." If they buy a Dodge, he wants to keep them in the brand's family for their next purchase.

The division's growing sophistication in event sponsorship is mirrored by its spending.

Jim Julow, general manager of Dodge, says Dodge has shifted 25 percent to 30 percent of its marketing dollars from traditional media to special events.

Julow would not give specific figures, but Advertising Age estimates the Dodge, Plymouth, Jeep and Chrysler brands spent a total of $229 million in unmeasured media in 1997, which includes events and sponsorships.

Annual Dodge events include a partnership with Purina Mills to sponsor equine educational events, which draw a largely female audience of about 75,000. It also sponsors events at college campuses organized by Mademoiselle magazine.

Dodge sponsors events for its current owners, too. They include regional rallies for diesel Ram pickup owners tied to Turbo Diesel Register magazine and, beginning this year, long weekend events at Universal Studios theme park in

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