A stunningly successful Toys-for-Guns exchange in a troubled New York neighborhood is going national and for marketers of everything from sneakers to beds, the effort is emerging as the latest in cause marketing.
Foot Locker, Reebok International and Dial-A-Mattress have already joined Toys "R" Us in pledging support to the program, which allows gun owners to turn in their weapons in exchange for $100 gift certificates.
"We are going to see if we can't encourage the broadest range of advertisers to step up to the plate," said Benjamin Chavis, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and co-chairman of the Toys-for-Guns program.
Mr. Chavis got involved in the effort last week, but Toys-for-Guns was the brainchild of Fernando Mateo, co-chairman of the program and a carpet store owner, whose teen-age son said he would gladly give up his Christmas toys to help get guns off the streets.
Mr. Mateo put up $5,000 of his own money to offer $100 Toys "R" Us gift certificates to gun owners who turned in their weapons at the police station in Manhattan's crime-plagued Washington Heights neighborhood.
After the money quickly ran out, Toys "R" Us put up $20,000. Foot Locker later 38
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pledged another $25,000 in gift certificates for its stores. By late last week, more than 500 guns and assault weapons had been turned in at the precinct and the program had been extended until Jan. 6 thanks to a total of $70,000 in corporate and private donations.
The Toys-for-Guns program attracted nationwide news coverage and touched a raw nerve by keeping the spotlight on the issues of gun control and unchecked violence in America.
USA Today last week devoted an entire issue to a comprehensive report on gun violence, one day after running a lead story on the Toys-for-Guns swap.
"The cry of the people has made it what it is," Mr. Mateo said of the program.
Mr. Mateo, with the help of Mr. Chavis and Rep. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) chairman of the Congressional Crime Committee, is planning to develop a national gun exchange program.
Messrs. Mateo and Chavis said they have received dozens of calls from local and national marketers pledging support. Mr. Chavis said marketers of designer jeans and sneakers, entertainment companies and others that market to inner-city neighborhoods should consider backing the exchange program.
Although no formal agreements were reached outside of those with Foot Locker and Toys "R" Us, companies including Reebok and Dial-A-Mattress said they intend to back the program.
"Anything we can do to get the guns off the streets, we see as our civic duty," said Daniel Flamberg, director of marketing for Dial-A-Mattress. "It is cause marketing."
He said the bedding company views the program as "an opportunity to add to our marketing palette."
Dial-A-Mattress will also offer $100 gift certificates for its merchandise to people who turn in guns in New York. Although Dial-A-Mattress only operates in eight U.S. markets, the company plans to continue supporting the program as it goes national.
As for Reebok, Toys-for-Guns "can count on us as they expand," said Sharon Cohen, VP-public affairs. "We want to stop the violence and make our cities a safe place. If there isn't violence on the streets, every single person in America benefits."
Reebok does not yet know how much money it will contribute to the program or what it will offer in exchange for guns. But Ms. Cohen said the effort fits with Reebok's $2 million cause marketing program, which offers after-school activities to keep youths off street corners and out of trouble.
Mr. Mateo said the program will be introduced throughout New York before expanding into such major cities as Washington; Newark, N.J.; Chicago; and Los Angeles in mid-1994.
Both Toys "R" Us and Foot Locker have also said they will continue to support the exchange effort as it expands.
"Our customers are affected by gun-related violence every day," said a Foot Locker spokeswoman. "As the largest athletic retailer in the country, we have the responsibility to give something back to the community."
Critics of the program have argued that it is not taking guns from criminals or taking lawbreakers off the streets. But supporters insist they don't care where the guns come from as long as they come.
"We think it's fantastic if it reduces the number of guns," said a spokeswoman for Toys "R" Us.
Added Mr. Mateo: "A $25 gun can kill you just as effectively as a $1,000 one. However, you can't put a value on a life."
The NAACP's Mr. Chavis said Toys-for-Guns is a first step in curbing urban violence and empowering poor people.
"The ultimate swap," he said, "would be a job for a gun."M
15Fernando Mateo's Toys-for-Guns program in New York City spawned national attention, including an appearance on NBC's "Today."