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Drawing the Line

Above, below, through – words that when used in conjunction with 'the line' in the company of marketers and advertising professionals are usually met with sighs of exasperation, eyes rolling heavenward and mouths clamping in a disapproving grimace.
Yet, despite the violent protestations, the terminology is still used in many industry engine rooms and numerous campaigns are still developed by strategists and creative teams whose minds – on auto pilot – veer towards solutions that can be neatly boxed and described.

MarketingWeb ( asked FCB South Africa group media director Elana de Swardt, a strategist who has lived above, below and through; and FCB Headspace online media director Joanne Scholtz, someone who has never known a career without digital; to draw the line.

Does 'the line' still exist? The industry insists it doesn't.

Elana: In the not so distant past, marketers divided their commission-bearing advertising communication budgets into above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL). Brand-building agencies were given the ATL budgets for communications using television, print, radio, etc. Many marketers still do this today – sadly, too many! Some of these marketers allow their agencies sight of both the ATL and BTL budgets but with the proviso 'don't touch – it's not for you'!

Although we're often given 'ATL' budgets, we will recommend 'BTL' initiatives such as sponsorships and competitions form part of the communication depending on the target market and task at hand. Smart marketers will give us their entire communication budget with a great brief ... and then we recommend proper integrated through-the-line (TTL) communication solutions. And then more and more media owners package their offerings as TTL these days.

Joanne: When online advertising came about some seven years ago, many perceived it to be the 'line' because they were unable to classify it as 'above' or 'below'. That may well have been the start of the 'through-the-line' phase, the phase that connected the lines.

I believe that the line has definitely blurred, and is fading fast – television is interactive, radio a response medium, the Internet doesn't only focus on direct marketing but has turned 'broadcaster' with full page ads, flash clips acting as 'movies' and so on. Today, its content is delivered very similarly to print. Online newsletters can be seen as online publishing or as direct marketing – addressed to an individual.

In addition, there's experiential marketing or advertising that involves all the senses and often includes other historically ATL or BTL elements. How would one neatly classify this discipline? Integration across the 'lines' is the new trend – radio competitions on the web; print/radio/TV promotions utilising SMS etc. If there was a line, where does SMS/mobile fit in? Uh huh, there is no line. Today, interactivity is key, moving between the lines, voting for your TV Idols/Big Brothers/Pop Stars, slipping from broadcast to direct response, and back again.

How do you substantiate that? Surely you have to admit that there is a difference between television advertising and online advertising?

Joanne: Your question assumes that online is BTL, or at least not ATL. I maintain that TV may be broadcast, but the web is casting its net even broader. The Internet can reach millions of nameless people just as TV, radio and print do, but it can also reach individuals with personalised communication. The web is many things: narrow, broad, ubiquitous, select ... if there's a line, the web doesn't see it.

Are there still enclaves that believe there is a line? Who are they and why do you think they persist?

Elana: The line does exist, particularly in the creative engine rooms of the industry. Creatives who are able to conceptualise and develop 'TTL' campaigns are not that plentiful! And most agencies will split their creative hubs between classical media, web, experiential, etc as soon as size permits.

Joanne: I think the terms exist more than the belief, or implementation. There shouldn't be a competent communication strategist out there that still believes in separating ATL from BTL.

What are the problems with marketing solutions developed by strategists who believe that there is a line?

Joanne: Again, I think the line is merely terminology still used, but the strategies are mostly integrated, or at least attempt to be.

A media strategist who does not include all types of media (ATL, BTL, on-the-line) could:

a) Perhaps not have the budget to move into more experiential elements, or whose responsibility is specifically limited to ATL or BTL.

b) Lack the skill or courage to plan in environments he is unfamiliar with.

c) Have a client that lacks the vision to advertise outside of the typical and proven ATL arena.

d) Not require more experiential elements due to a target market definition.

If an agency is only responsible for ATL creative and media solutions, they may not include other non-ATL elements in the strategy because they fear they would loose the budget to specialised implementing companies.

What are the benefits with marketing solutions developed by strategists who believe that there is a line??

Elana: Hmmm ...

Joanne: Are there any? I can't think ...

What are the problems of marketing solutions developed by strategists who believe that there is not a line?

Joanne: The strategist has to be proficient in as many disciplines as possible; it's difficult to be an expert across so many fields. Then too, information over-load could be a real concern. Team effort is required for the best-integrated strategy.

What are the benefits of marketing solutions developed by strategists who believe that there is a not line?

Elana: The critical benefit is that communication plans are 'media neutral', that is they deliver the most effective solution that takes all factors into account and is unconstrained by boxed thinking.

Joanne: Yes, without a line to divide the disciplines, the strategist is able to objectively look at the media and communication types to develop the best solution for the brand, not the most profitable solution for the agency's bottom-line. Another benefit is integration through all communication types, selecting communication types that complement the overall communication strategy and not being ATL heavy or light, depending on the strengths of the agency.

How does thinking 'without a line' impact your strategies?

Joanne: We're more integrated, more objective, more effective.

Can you provide examples of strategies/campaigns developed 'without a line'?

Elana: The launch of Vodacom's 4U youth brand was one of the most integrated FCB South Africa's Johannesburg has done to date. FCB South Africa's Cape Town is currently implementing an integrated campaign for Momentum's new customer retention programme, Vitality, and – on a much larger scale – Toyota SA's marketing philosophy is based on the belief that there is no line. The composition of the mix of media it utilises will vary according to the task at hand but there is always a mix.
21 Jan 2004 14:47


vodacom fan-
Vodacom 4U is not a good example of integrated brand communication. The effort and money put behind entrenching this positioning using ATL tactics is not evident in the 4U retail environment. The retail experience does not match the 4U brand personality in design or attitude. It seems to be more of an after thought rather than a reflection of the brand. If the masterminds behind 4U were holistic in their brand communication, the brand experience would have been consistant accross ATL/BTL/TTL/.........not to mention innovative.
Posted on 23 Jan 2004 09:44
Agreeing with Vodacom Fan
Walk the talk-
I must agree with "Vodacom Fan" as agencies love talking about being through the line (generally because in today's environment they have to be), but when it comes to actually driving the Brand they go straight to traditional media options. The reason for this is that in the long term, it is a better business decision for them. Whether it is claimed to be called a 360 degree approach or a holistic approach or whatever else they claim to call it, it will never be a total communications campaign until they learn to walk the talk.
Posted on 23 Jan 2004 14:03