Above the line (ATL), below the line (BTL), and through the line (TTL), in organizational business and marketing communications, are advertising techniques, or different strategies companies use to sell their products.
In a nutshell, while ATL communications use media that are broadcast and published to mass audiences, BTL communications use media that are more niche focused. While both ATL and BTL communications can be used to either build brand awareness or drive sales through specific offers (promotions), it is BTL communication that gives the marketer the ability to tailor their messaging in a more personal manner to the audience. ATL promotions are also difficult to measure well, while BTL promotions are highly measurable,[ giving marketers valuable insights into their return-on-investment. These insights can then be used to inform the next BTL communication to the audience and tailor the messaging based on the feedback received.
“Through the line” refers to an advertising strategy involving both above and below the line communications. This strategic approach allows brands to engage with a customer at multiple points (for example, the customer will see the television commercial, hear the radio advert and be handed a flyer on the street corner). This enables an integrated communications approach where consistent messaging across multiple media create a customer perception.
Above the line sales promotion
ATL is a type of advertising through media such as television, cinema, radio, print, and Out-of-home to promote brands or convey a specific offer. This type of communication is conventional in its nature and is considered impersonal to customers. It differs from BTL advertising, which uses unconventional brand-building and promotional strategies, such as direct mail, sales promotions, flyers, point-of-sale, telemarketing and printed media (for example brochures) – and usually involves no motion graphics. It is much more effective than when the target group is very large and difficult to define.
The term comes from top business managers and involves the way in which Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s biggest advertising clients, was charged for its media in the 1950s and 1960s. Advertising agencies made commission from booking media (Television, cinema, radio, press, out-of-home and magazines). As below the line had no media involvement there was no commission to be made for the advertising agencies. The accountants thus labeled the different media ATL and BTL depending on where it would sit in the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts (ATL where they made a profit and BTL where they did not) Since then, models have changed and clients are no longer charged for their media in that way.
As mentioned above, the line was born out of an accounting definition in terms of above the line (capital expenditure) or below the line (current expenditure). Colloquially, ATL means mass media. However the media landscape has shifted so dramatically that advertisers have reconsidered their definition of mass media.
For some marketers the “line” divides the realm of “Awareness or Attention focused marketing” and that of “Interest + Desire focused marketing”. Since audience numbers in the Interest and Desire phase of the AIDA sales model narrow down to a fraction of the Awareness audience, the line could be drawn right below the awareness set of activities.
It could also be argued this is a reverse definition, i.e. the Line came before the above definition did. The Line more likely refers to the profit line of the agency, with above the line activities being more profitable (or at least profitable) for advertising agencies, and below the line activities of little value to agencies since they didn’t involve large budgets and hefty kickbacks from media buying houses.
Below the line sales promotion
BTL sales promotion is an immediate or delayed incentive to purchase, expressed in cash or in kind, and having short duration. It is efficient and cost-effective for targeting a limited and specific group. It uses less conventional methods than the usual ATL channels of advertising, typically focusing on direct means of communication, most commonly direct mail and e-mail, often using highly targeted lists of names to maximize response rates. BTL services may include those for which a fee is agreed upon and charged up front.
BTL is a common technique used for “touch and feel” products (consumer items where the customer will rely on immediate information rather than previously researched items). BTL techniques ensures recall of the brand while at the same time highlighting the features of the product.
Another BTL technique involves sales personnel deployed at retail stores near targeted products. This technique may be used to generate trials of newly launched products. It helps marketers establish one-to-one relationship with consumers while mass promotions, by definition, make it difficult to gauge consumer-response, except at the time of sales. Examples include tele-marketing, road shows, promotions, in- shop and shop-front activities, display units.
The terms “below the line” promotion or communications, refers to forms of non-media communication, even non-media advertising. Below the line promotions are becoming increasingly important within the communications mix of many companies, not only those involved in FMCG products, but also for industrial goods. Below the line sales promotions are short-term incentives, largely aimed at consumers. With the increasing pressure on the marketing team to achieve communication objectives more efficiently in a limited budget, there has been a need to find out more effective and cost efficient ways to communicate with the target markets. This has led to a shift from the regular media based advertising. In other words, below-the-line sales promotion is an immediate or delayed incentive to purchase, expressed in cash or in kind, and having only a short term or temporary duration.
Below the Line uses less conventional methods than the usual specific channels of advertising to promote products, services, etc. than Above the Line strategies. These may include activities such as direct mail, public relations and sales promotions for which a fee is agreed upon and charged up front. Below the line advertising typically focuses on direct means of communication often using highly targeted lists of names to maximize response rates.
Trained sales personnel, often young women, are deployed at Retail Stores, near the shelves of targeted products. These young women convince customers visiting these shelves about the better aspects of their brand compared with others. This is ideal for new launches as it generates trials, which if successful result in repeat sales.
In addition, above the line is much more effective when the target group is very large and difficult to define. But if the target group is limited and specific, it is always advisable to use BTL promotions for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Say, for example, if a pen manufacturer is going to promote its product, it may take the ATL route, but if a company manufactures computer UPS, it will certainly take the BTL route, as the target group is very limited and specific.
More recently, agencies and clients have switched to an ‘Integrated Communication Approach.’ BTL is a common technique used for “touch and feel” products ,consumer items where the customer will rely on immediate information rather than previously researched items. BTL techniques ensures recall of the brand while at the same time highlighting the features of the product.
Through the line
More recently, in the past 5 to 6 years, agencies and clients have switched to an “Integrated Communication Approach”, or “through the line” approach. TTL is a neologism describing an existing process, according to Altaf Jasnaik, Corporate Communications and Branding Manager at Sharp Middle East & Africa. In the TTL approach, a mix of ATL and BTL are used to integrate a marketer’s efforts and optimize returns from these separate investments.
This switch in the TTL approach has shifted its emphasis more towards BTL The idea remains to optimize the return on marketing budget spent by focusing one’s energy on winning smaller yet more crucial BTL battles than ATL wars with well-funded competition. A few examples are: bus stand hoardings, pamphlets, small informational sheets along with the newspaper, etc.