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Above the line (ATL), Below the line (BTL), and Through the line (TTL), the terms still exist, but what about the line itself?

I have noticed that the line thinking still exists, you still find agencies or marketers planning their budgets dividing them between ATL and BTL, hiring an agency for each, or even when using one agency to develop the full solution TTL, they ask them to keep a clear definition between budgets used for each.
If this is too technical, let me define each first:

Above-the-line ATL:

  • Mass Reach
  • No consumer involvement
  • Good to raise awareness
  • Main examples include: Broadcast (TV, Radio), Print (Newspapers, Magazines), Outdoor (Billboards).

Below-the-line BTL:

  • Selective reach
  • Direct consumer involvement
  • Good for trial generation
  • Main examples include: P.O.P material (Mousepads, Posters, dealer boards, key chains, etc), Moving units (kiosks, car sponsorships / branding, sport teams jerseys branding, etc), Events (invitations, location sponsorships and decorations, etc).

Through-the-line TTL:

  • A plan of advertising that cobmines both ATL and BTL
  • Examples: Campaigns that are carried between different mediums, like TV, Radio, Magazines, Billboards, and lately *web*.

Where did the”Line” come from?

Initially the line used to differentiate between media that pay 15% commission rate to the agencies (mainly ATL) and the meida that do not.

Does the line still exist today though?

I see it existing as in our terminology more than our practice, especially with the web’s (online advertising) arrival which actually does it all, web can be BTL (reach individuals) through sponsorships, newsletters, and e-dms, and yet can be ATL (reach millions of people) through podcasts, websites, flash microsites, and full page ads and so on. The web is narrow and broad at the same time, so either the web is the line, or it simply does not see it.

Another aspect you may note is that TV has become interactive already, and radio has become a responsive medium by itself.

To meet todays requirements, marketing strategists have to think integrated campaigns. They actually have been doing so more often recently, Integrated approach is basically BTL, ATL, and Web all together or can be only Web – I seriously cannot think of something print or radio or even TV can do and web cannot do even better.

Each medium is pointing to the other, all with an interactive manner to a certain extent. TV competitions on the web and phone, Radio advertising through SMS or emailers and the so on, examples are many just look around you.

The rise of the integrated approach is making the line fade away slowly, and soon it will cease to exist.

So why do we still hear ATL / BTL?

I think because planners and marketers are used to the terms for one, and because there is lack of those of who understand all mediums (including web) thoroughly to plan an integrated campaign, making it easier for them to divide their campaigns between ATL and BTL – actually their only shelter.

Why don’t all marketing planners develop integrated campaigns (without web)?

  1. They do not have enough budgets for an integrated solution.
  2. The target defined is already tight and does not require ATL.
  3. They have classical clients who still do not believe in the web.
  4. They do not have enough expertise to experiment through all mediums.

Being in the field of online advertising, I hear that a lot, so let us shoot these reasons one by one:

  1. The main reason behind this is that clients do not believe they need to raise more budget because they lack knowledge of the market, hence hiring a communication agency to do the thinking and the division themselves, so it is always worth giving it a shot and recommend the integrated practice which will require additional budget naturally, or simply maximize for online and support by other mediums since web is the one with most reach and coverage.
  2. Web is much more cost effective and less pricey, if you go direct marketing using the web, you can achieve much more reach than you will using classic BTL approaches, and it is easier to measure the response through online.
  3. There are millions of case studies that prove web alone can sometimes get you the results, sharing these with your clients will make them at least give a room for online in their mix if not all.
  4. If you do not understand the medium, Online agencies do! They are not enemies of the classic ones, using the term “integrated” implies joining forces between agencies when planing, keeping online an essential wheel instead of claiming to do so but allocating juicy budgets for the classic approaches and throwing breadcrumbs to online just to “achieve” the integrated approach, and then point fingers at online when it does not perform as expected. The smart marketer should brief all the agencies at once defining one great big budget, which can be utilized through mediums depending on the requirements.

It is simple, the more integrated you are, the more reach you will make, hence the more you will achieve. The more “line” you apply, the narrower your look at the different mediums will be, keeping in mind it does not apply today because as explained, the mediums themselves have changed.

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