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CHICAGO-Though hidden behind a "veil of secrecy," package-goods marketers are increasing their use of database marketing programs to involve and bond with their customers.

Package-goods marketers that utilize database programs the most in terms of overall efforts are Kraft General Foods, Procter & Gamble Co., Nestle USA, Philip Morris Cos. and Johnson & Johnson, said John Cummings, president of John Cummings & Partners at a recent seminar here. His Armonk, N.Y., consultancy has tracked and monitored database marketing programs of more than 800 companies and 1,700 brands since 1991. The consultancy tracks package-goods database programs including FSIs, direct response TV, direct mail and retail offers.

"The companies don't tell us what is going on [for competitive reasons] so we can only gauge ourselves. Ours is a highly interpretative service. We estimate we pick up about 20% of all mail out there," Mr. Cummings said.

Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Ralston Purina Co., Adolph Coors Co., Kraft, Gerber Products Co., Sara Lee Corp., Quaker Oats Co., Sandoz Consumer Corp. and P&G are the package-goods marketers most committed to database marketing, based on the consultancy's own criteria including loyalty programs, household-coded coupons and internal database staff.

The most active product categories: cold beverages, multibrand programs, cigarettes, liquor, pet products, lotions/creams, fresh/canned meats and poultry, diet products, fragrances and vitamins.

"Superbrands will be paving the way for database marketing, not the dog [problem] brands. The superbrands are making an effort to create dialogue with customers to increase loyalty to brands," he said.

"There is a perception that only troubled brands, the brands not making it, or the small brands, brands so small they can't afford mass marketing, are the brands that can be resuscitated by database marketing. While there are a few examples of that, by and large, it is the major brands, the top brands," that utilize database programs, he said.

The consultancy's analysis for the year ended June 30 showed a 28% increase in activity compared with the previous year. Direct mail alone was up 37%.

Targeted direct mail, continuity programs, newsletters, catalogs, mini magazines, custom magazines and interactive efforts are the chief ways package-goods marketers utilize their database.

Though coupons are still the No. 1 way consumers respond to programs, the use of 800-numbers is dramatically increasing, Mr. Cummings said. Other emerging trends: more tie-in programs to reduce cost and shared-name generation programs possibly leading to shared databases, he said.

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