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Are ATL and BTL still relevant?

If you are a marketer or a salesperson, chances are you’ve heard the terms ‘Above the Line’ (ATL) and ‘Below the Line’ (BTL) mentioned in meetings you’ve attended. The ATL and BTL acronyms were created in a pre-digital world that separated mass market appeal from more targeted campaigns.

Proctor and Gamble’s finance department originally coined the terms to divide agencies that dealt with ‘above the line’ media such as TV, Radio, Print and more, and those that dealt with ‘below the line’ non-commissioned media.

Since then, ATL and BTL have been widely used in the marketing world. But as marketing campaigns shift more and more towards the digital sphere, are these terms becoming obsolete? Is a different approach needed?

Previously, Make It Happen explored what the ATL and BTL acronyms mean, the difference between them, and how digital marketing has blurred the line that separates them. With such a blurred line, it’s worth looking into whether or not ATL and BTL are still relevant, and what the alternatives might be.

Why are ATL and BTL outdated?

ATL and BTL are arguably outdated terms in the marketing world because most marketing campaigns utilise digital platforms and tools to appeal to customers. Digital marketing campaigns nowadays tend to mesh together brand awareness, generalised appeal and more direct customer engagement.

Yes, ATL campaigns still exist, primarily in TV ads. Think Amazon’s playful 2021 Superbowl commercial, in which an Amazon employee imagines Alexa embodied in a new vessel, specifically Michael B. Jordan’s body. The ad does not display any pricing or explain how to purchase the product. It simply paints a picture of what Amazon as a brand offers, with its logo appearing briefly at the end of the ad.

These ads, however, are far less common than they used to be. While it is expected that millions of people will tune into the Superbowl, TV usage has generally declined since 2020 and internet usage has increased. Most companies utilise digital marketing to appeal to massive amounts of users, while also enabling them to engage personally with the brand and easily convert into buying clients. This smudged line has birthed a new term: ‘through the line’, or TTL.

Through the Line and 360° Marketing Campaigns

Through the line (TTL) marketing refers to 360° marketing campaigns, whereby marketers develop holistic campaigns that achieve brand marketing while also zeroing-in on client conversion. Another term to refer to this strategy is the full funnel approach. TTL integrates both BTL and ATL and is ultimately designed to feed into other marketing activities.

TTL is most often executed in the digital sphere, and particularly on social media platforms. For example, a company can post a generalised ad campaign on Facebook, which is initially dubbed as an ATL ad. However, the same ad could then be shared by an individual user, suddenly acting as BTL advertising.

Other examples include posts on Twitter with hashtags. Take this Calvin Klein post. The use of the hashtag #mycalvins encourages direct engagement from users as well as direct promotion from customers who have already experienced the product. Further, a link is included directing users to ‘shop summer essentials’. The ad ultimately serves the dual function of building brand awareness and increasing client conversion.

A final example is when companies launch nationwide promotional campaigns, but give consumers a promo code that applies to their local shopping environment.

TTL Marketing as an advantage

With this in mind, TTL digital marketing presents an advantage for companies. No longer do they need separate departments to create BTL and ATL advertisements. Marketers are taking a more integrated approach when designing ads and utilise social media to create maximum exposure while also driving sales.

Digital marketing gives the power of decision-making back to customers and makes it easier for them to spread the word, essentially expanding promotional potential.

Although the visual appeal of a slick TV ad always wins in aesthetics, TTL offers countless advantages. Just like BTL, online campaigns and advertisements can easily monitor users’ engagement by measuring number of webpage visitations, click-through rates in ads and sponsorships, and reactions or follows.

With skillful visual designs and so many options to engage, marketers are able to create impactful digital advertising that is all-encompassing in style and function.

Final thoughts

So… are ATL and BTL still relevant?

Perhaps now, knowing how effective TTL can be in integrating both the ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ methods, we can argue that the two terms are indeed becoming obsolete.

Sure, it’s important to keep in mind how the two terms came to be and the historical relevance they hold, but holding a tight grip on how things used to be done in the past is not necessary.

The digital sphere is helping marketing progress into a more integrated and holistic field.

Based on high success rates, this can only be a good thing.

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