Whose Line Is It Anyway?

In the business of advertising and marketing, acronyms and jargons are created with fervor second to none. Among them ATL (Above The Line) and BTL (Below The Line) are the privileged few that have found its way into the vocabularies of countless marketing folks. For what simply is ‘communications’, something that’s intrinsic to human nature, these terms have been discussed to complex proportions, careers built on either sides and specialty silos set up to milk the marketing dollar… helping elevate ATL and BTL to legendary status.

For starters, there is a misconception around their roles.

  • ATL is believed to be largely emotional communications while BTL thrives on rational messaging that leads to behaviour change.

  • ATL strategies generally build a foundation for long-term brand building while BTL communication strategies are formulated with the objective of short-term returns. The reasons could vary from customer acquisition or retention, generating interest in slow-moving products or even to popularize an incentive to induce trial or purchase.

  • ATL is a ‘mind and soul thing’ that weaves lovely images while BTL is a ‘feet thing’ that must make the sale happen.

So, why not do the ‘whole body thing’ here? Well, in keeping with the times, shouldn’t the brand need holistic healing too? Leads one to the question – What’s the fate of this proverbial line in today’s context?

It’s time for consolidation. Call it ‘brothers in arms’ or the coming together of the ATL and BTL brethren. Advertising and its many extensions is one way to look at it. Not incompatible silos anymore but complementary disciplines that function together for the common good.

The line has blurred. For the terrain is changing. Today, a marketing problem needs a communication solution, not an advertising solution. Gone are the days of one campaign running through all media. It’s time to embrace different technologies, mix various media and create an integrated campaign. That’s where the opportunity lies. And think about it, challenges and thrills as well.

What about ideas then? Ideas know no line, above or below. The big idea has only gotten bigger; what with it needing to come alive in more ways than it has ever done before. This big idea takes avatars for each medium it lives in, smartly adapting its flavour to suit every touch point. Getting consumers to raise their hands, helping them experience the brand.

That said, brand activations are finding increasing advocates by the day. And night. After all, it’s about the brand’s date with its prospective consumers… at the latter’s choice of place and time. No ego at play here; just an honest desire to get tried or experienced. Start a dialogue and have an interesting engagement with consumers. If the going was good, they’ll remember the interaction, reflecting in a change of behaviour towards the brand and keeping competing brands at bay for a long time.

Technology has added more than its two gigabits to the proverbial L (Yes, the same one in ATL and BTL). The integration of digital has meant that all communications need to be emotively charged to succeed. Moving sound and image – the best drivers of emotional response and brand likeability – no longer reside solely with ATL agencies but in all creative agencies irrespective of their discipline. In addition, technology is converging and helping media to converge. That means creating communications for print and for various screens – TV, Internet and mobile.

Generating interactivity is a hygiene that must be religiously practiced. Allowing consumers to control conversations will lead to more meaningful engagements. Co-creation is the name of the game. It takes a good mind to get the consumer to co-create with the brand; a fascinating collaboration that’s an insurance of loyalty.

Back to the line then! Try walking on it, similar to doing a tightrope walk. What would the experience be like? The action is way below while above is only sky. Is that how one would want to look at brand communications? Now, step off the line, stand on terra firma and record observations. In the thick of action among a milieu of consumers, here’s where the world lies. In getting to know them, understanding them, and providing them what they seek. Is that ATL or BTL?

Just brings into sharp focus the melting away of the line in ATL and BTL. TTL (Through The Line)? Let’s face it, there is no L. So, it’s TT!

TT, a fascinating game played between the client and the agency. Live problems being addressed, countered by live solutions, back and forth discussions and then implementation by one followed by feedback on results from the other. Somebody won the point? It doesn’t matter, the relationship won. That’s best for the game.

Remember, in today’s times, it’s the coin that counts; the head or tail doesn’t matter. So, live happily ever after. Together!

Rajiv R. Menon