Admen of a certain vintage still talk about ATL and BTL as a thing.
They’ll tell you how above-the-line – that’s broadcast TV, national radio, some mass-media print – works for driving brand awareness. On the other hand, below-the-line – direct mail, e-CRM, anything wobbling on a shop counter – is only good for driving response: the domain of the coupon-clip and the voucher code. Some (silly) advertising agencies think above-the-line broadcast campaigns are somehow “better” than the below-the-line expertise of CRM.
Here at Scorch, we think it’s time to draw a line through the old ATL/BTL split, because in today’s world of digital content and relationship-building interactivity, the old definitions look as retro as Donald Trump’s hairstyle. In fact, in most of our conversations with clients, the two terms barely come up.
When we set out to create a great advertising campaign, we’re not dividing the audience into who-needs-to-know and who-wants-to-buy – we treat the whole media plan as a single opportunity: to engage with customers, as both audience and individuals.
Let’s look at how ATL and BTL can walk a mile in each other’s shoes . . . and work together.
Above-The-Line: Segue the visual splash into an audience action
Look at the great broadcast TVCs of the past by companies like Apple, Nike, and British Airways. They all used vivid imagery to fire up emotion, buying brand reach in the breaks with the highest Nielsen ratings. This plan is great for conveying singular ideas – empowerment through sport, individuality through technology, travel draws us together – but they were all brand. However, if they were to include a phone number in the corner, or a web address onscreen, it would have “looked wrong”, destroying the positive excitement built up in the spot.
So here’s the question for through-the-line marketers to ask themselves: how can brand ads segue from emotional response into actual response, to forge that ATL/BTL bridge?
Scorch’s answer: don’t think of the response device as a standard add-on, like a web address or hashtag in the last scene. Treat the response mechanism as part of the creative brief, and apply as much creativity to the data capture as the video execution. It requires your advertising agency to think about what emotional hot buttons you’re creating in the ad, and design the response mechanism that fits.
Is the product a new launch, evoking curiosity? Maybe the response device is a puzzle to solve, or an enigmatic sentence typed into Google. If it’s excitement you’re aiming for, involve them in a game. If you’re building a community, invite consumers to sign a manifesto rather than complete a form, and always make the offer appropriate to the creative (Scorch’s “Perfect Day” campaign for Citroen took the brand idea of “What makes a perfect day?” and segued it into an offer of a 24-hour test drive).
Experts say the clipped coupon and the Call Centre number are dead – and they may be right – but the interactivity of the web enables countless variants of the standard response device, many of which don’t feel like responses at all but they’re all effective means of data capture. In order to successfully incorporate ATL into BTL, brands must match the response device with a creative strategy.
Below-The-Line: Build one-to-one relationships with personalised visuals
Ah, direct mail. Most of us think of it as BTL, while some great brands have grown on the back of it (think Sears and American Express), but it remains accepted wisdom that even its modern evolutions (e-CRM, programmatic PPC) can’t hold a torch to the brand-building ability of above-the-line.
However, let’s look at where the real split is here. Not between broadcast and one-to-one, but between the visual and the textual. In most e-CRM, the visuals are just decoration, stock photography inserted into a newsletter template. The messaging is delivered primarily through the text. It’s the same with SMS marketing, much of PPC, or good old DM. Lots of words, not many pictures.
Scorch’s answer: let’s turn this around. What if you told your creative agency to treat below-the-line as a visual medium, prospecting for response through images and video as much as text?
You’d be in good company – look at how the best textbooks, like Gray’s Anatomy, convey information: pictures predominate, with the text there to explain and support the visuals, not act as the main show. And it’s not even a new idea – do you know who came up with it? Some Italian guy called Leonardo.
Think of how quickly Facebook Video has spread, or think of how popular video has become on Instagram. These hobbyist cooks, fitness enthusiasts, and fashion bloggers maintain one-to-one relationships with their audience mostly with visuals. And we’d venture these media could go even further. What if you could combine the biggest advantage of BTL – its penchant for personalisation – with brand-building visual content?
Electronically pasting different images into visual content has been possible for decades; it’s how sports events show TV audiences around the world different ads on the billboards based on where they live. What if your e-CRM did the same? Not just stock photography to illustrate your email, but pictures of the consumer’s own street. Not just a generic shot of a cellar for your wine newsletter, but shots of the reader’s favourite bottles. Not just your chef’s dishes in your cooking quarterly, but reader’s shots of their own food. Visuals, personalised for each consumer, in the same way as a mailmerge field makes it Dear Mr Smith instead of Dear Sir or Madam, drives deeper engagement and a heightened emotional connection.
So that’s the connection for BTL: be visual. Creative application of video can make your one-to-one communications as personalised as any mailmerged letter . . . while maintaining, or exceeding, the same brand-building emotion and excitement as a well-crafted TV ad.
Conclusion: digital video content bridges the divide
So that’s the overlap, where ATL and BTL become one. It’s not about whether your medium is email, a web page, a sponsored production, or a commercial break. It’s about whether you engage them right between the eyes – with visual content. Creative imagery, expertly animated, can both build a brand and capture positive responses.
It needs a cool concept and exceptional execution, but that’s what we do at Scorch (look at some of our recent Case Studies). We believe that creative advertising agencies should draw a line through ATL and BTL, so talk to us about how your brand objectives can be answered by an all-digital campaign. It might be great for the bottom line, too.