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‘Through-the-line’ (what is the line?)

6 Sep

through the line marketingI was having a chat with a colleague the other day and I found myself referring to a ‘through the line’ agency.  Within seconds of the words leaving my mouth, it was obvious that he had no bloody idea what I was talking about.  Furthermore, I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years and, throughout those years – in countless meetings – we (i.e. all of us) have discussed the magical and mythical ‘line’ and I wonder whether many people know about the defining features of the aforementioned line.

To be clear, I’m talking about that line – that we work below, above, or sometimes even through.  Sounds exciting, doesn’t it!!!

In traditional terms, ‘above the line’ (ATL), ‘below the line’ (BTL) and ‘through the line’ (TTL) are all different ways in which brands try to sell their products.

ATL comms use broadcast and published media, whilst BTL offers the ability to provide apersonal message to the audience using direct mail (DM), electronic direct mail (EDM), or a plain old-fashioned brochure (for example).  ATL or BTL comms can be used to build brand awareness or drive sales through specific offers/promotions.

ATL comms are perceptively more difficult to measure, whilst BTL are highly measurable, providing valuable marketing insights.

Making sense yet..?!  I wouldn’t be surprised if you said “Errr… NO…”

OK… Here’s an attempt at simplifying it:

  1. Mass media channels, such as TV, radio, outdoor (or ‘out of home’, as it’s now known), cinema, magazines, newspapers, are all classed as ‘above the line’.
  2. Non-media or advertising comms are classed as ‘below the line’.
  3. ‘Through the line’ refers to an integrated campaign, involving both ATL and BTL (TV, outdoor and DM for example), allowing brands to engage on multiple levels with their audience.

So what about the internet?!  That’s ON the line!!  Panic not, my (rightfully) confused marketer.  That’s a different line.  Online (or ‘digital’ as it’s fast becoming known as) is, for the purposes of classification very much ATL.  However, digital marketing as we know is also BTL and TTL!!  I know… How confusing is this?!!!  Digital offers an unspeakably large potential – from niche to mass market – from targeted to non-targeted – all absolutely measurable in every way possible. And let’s not even try to work out where social media fits into this pigeonholing exercise! After all, it’s ‘mass market’, but it’s not ‘paid media’. So what is it?!!

Which actually brings me to my point: It never ceases to amaze me how much smoke & mirrors jargon there is in our industry; it’s amusing and depressing all at the same time – when all it comes down to is that you’ve got a brand trying to engage with a consumer – with multiple ways to communicate to them.  As for the business of this ‘line’, I think it’s all about to become very blurred indeed…

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