ATL, BTL – How has digital blurred the line?

9 March 2017

Above The Line (ATL) and Below The Line (BTL), digital channels are defined within these acronyms that the biggest advertising, marketing and creative agencies have been using for many years (since 1954 to be exact). In this post we ask how have the lines between these two digital mediums blurred over the years? Do brands now market themselves differently? And what (if anything) are we missing from the ranks inside our growing organisations?

The difference at a glance:

Above the line (ATL) advertising: includes all forms of mass media marketing and communications. Think grandiose TV and cinema commercials, radio ads, glossy advertisement in magazines and newspapers and other forms of outside marketing including signage and billboards found at our big sporting events. The message across the media tends to be the same; the objective for the most part is brand awareness.

Below The Line (BTL) marketing campaigns and promotions involve direct, targeted campaigns to specific prospects. This includes PR campaigns, social media marketing, telemarketing, content, events, social media marketing, paid search and search engine. The objective moves beyond brand awareness towards driving specific actions,

The concept and separation between the two forms began when large corporations started to distinguish and separate-out campaigns produced by large powerhouse ad agencies from tactics that were more direct in nature. An easier way to conceptualise this is the ‘Mad Men’ agencies of old VS internal in-house marketing teams that you would expect to find in small to medium sized organisations, working directly to contact their customer base via telemarketing and other promotional activities.

Looking deeper:

ATL marketing delivers a tailored message to meet a larger audience. It is fantastic for building brand awareness in a very big way. A great example would be a marketing campaign for a beer brand that you would see all over TV, in popular magazines and at age/demographic appropriate events, usually those that are broadcast nationally. One of the biggest distinguishing characteristics is cost. There is no question that ATL campaigns are for the most part expensive.

Do bigger budgets make ATL campaigns more successful?

Well this is difficult to gauge and depends largely on the quality, size and impact of the campaign. The measure of success is determined by the number of people reached to generate brand awareness, and ultimately, whether or not the brand or organisation receives an increase in profit and customer engagement.

Much of the research indicates that BTL campaigns tend to have more indicators for success, rendering them quite effective, particularly for smaller businesses or businesses with smaller marketing budgets. Because tactics can be aligned to the stages of the customer journey, targeting prospects with stage appropriate messaging you can use a broader range of marketing tactics. Organisations are also able to measure the success and engagement by evaluating conversion rates, site visits, page views, social shares and most importantly campaign attributed sales conversions. Focus on each campaign tactic and their effectiveness will allow you to evaluate and change tactics if a particular touch-point does not see to be working.

ATL campaigns can be hit or miss. Take for example the ‘Satisfaction’ electronic dance track used by Tooheys Extra Dry that followed an adventurous human tongue en route to a typically millennial house party to retrieve a beer. This was a hugely successful national campaign. By contrast, you may recall the unenthusiastic reception to Tourism Australia’s ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign (banned in Britain and Canada) catapulting Lara Bingle to fame.

Digital marketing has challenged both approaches and is actually Through The Line (TTL).

Through The Line marketing takes an integrated approach ensuring both direct and larger reach mediums are utilised, the focus of such campaigns is conversion. Something perhaps we all assume is happening; however this is not always the case.

A TTL campaign is strategically designed so that the overall message of the campaign leads and feeds into other marketing related activities. For instance, when a NFP has an activation outside a major commercial centre promoting a new cause, many of the passersby are already aware via other media channels. The impact of the campaign is intensified as the recognition of the cause/NFP is there and the brand reinforced.

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