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The two Generals of corporate America-Electric and Motors-tied for first in the recently published Forbes 500 annual directory, but only one of them can count on a salute from Wall Street. And that's General Electric Co., which ranked No. 3 out of the 20 largest New York Stock Exchange corporations in the Shareholders' Perception Survey. General Motors Corp. came in at 19.

So what explains the major discrepancy? Forbes' rankings are based on sales, assets, net profits and market value. Both the Perceptions Survey and Wall Street react to shareholders' expectations. And the difference between GE and GM appears to be as great as the difference between earnings multiples: The market values GE at 20 times earnings, GM at an anemic eight.

But something else is going on as well-"GE brings good things to life" is the longest running corporate campaign. As a GE spokesman said, "The most important factor in winning the shareholders is performance. But you have to let [shareholders] know about your performance as well."

The 17-year-old campaign, created by BBDO Worldwide, hit the Top 10 within months of its debut. Having abandoned its home appliance look for one more representative of a broader based company, it is now only used as a corporate theme. More important still, the four constituencies targeted by corporate campaigns believe in it. Here briefly, the fundamentals of their belief:

Shareholders-GE was ahead of GM in all statements devoted to this group. Differences were most dramatic on being "well managed" and "not too bureaucratic."

Customers-Product "quality" and responsiveness" made GE the runaway favorite.

Employees-GE was but slightly ahead here, thanks to the only statement in which GM outscored GE: "adequate medical coverage."

Society-Both showed equal attentiveness to minorities. Other than that, however, even this group preferred GE.

Numbers can create a top 10 list, but the input of the target audience has to be a part of it, whether it's how viewers feel about TV commercials or investors about corporations. It's bringing the average person in, instead of leaving it completely to the professionals' judgment.

Dave Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Test. Campaign Clout reports on consumer response to current advertising.

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