Above the line and Below the line activations simplified

ATL & BTL 01

If you are a marketing professional or a student and you are not well versed with current marketing lingo you might miss on opportunities coming in your direction. Two such terms are Above the line (ATL) & Below the line (BTL). Are you aware of these?

I spend a lot of time interacting with marketing students clarifying their concepts of the subject. Particularly, ATL & BTL concept is what I am being asked the most.

So here is the simplified explanation of the terms Above the line & Below the line.

Both ATL & BTL are aspects of advertising. The role of advertising in marketing is to reach to customers and for this advertiser opts for either ATL communication or BTL communication.

Related post : 9 best ad campaigns that define out of box creativity

Let’s first understand the definition and how was this term coined. ATL can be defined as a communication technique used by advertisers to reach highly untargeted masses. For example, an ad on television aired through the nation. On the flip side, BTL can be defined as a communication technique used by advertisers to reach a highly targeted audience. For example, an event planned in college / university categorically targeting the students. In a nutshell, ATL is used for brand awareness and BTL is used for direct response (either direct sale or direct promotion).

ATL & BTL 03

Now let’s demystify the “Line” in both the communication technique. Back in 1954, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) started paying its agencies different rates as per the promotion activities planned. The line of communication that was chosen for promotion gave origin to ATL & BTL activities.

Common examples of ATL advertising are television, radio, print, outdoor and internet. Under BTL advertising, you have flyers, handbills, brochures at POS, events, banners and last but not the least internet. You may me confused how come the internet is part of both the communication technique? The Internet is the only tool that has a reach to masses as well as selected groups. With this there is a new termed that has come to existence in advertising, it is called as Through The Line (TTL) advertising. ( I will be explaining about TTL in depth in my next post)

ATL & BTL 02

Which one should you choose?

It depends on your targeting. If you want to reach to masses then you need to go for ATL advertising. You need to have an agency of record (AoR) to plan your ATL campaigns. Example, Housing.com Look up campaign


Look up campaign

#LookUp campaign by Housing.com

If you want to communicate to specific (targeted) groups then you should opt for BTL advertising. Example, An activation in a cinema hall

Coca Cola campaign 3

Coco Cola BTL activation in India & Pakistan

Related post : Flipkart got a slice of Ambush Marketing from Snapdeal

Comparison of ATL & BTL

Above The Line Below The Line
Segment Undifferentiated segment Target segment
Commonly Known as Mass Marketing One to One (direct)
Media Vehicles TV, Print, Radio Out of home, banners, flyers, events
Investment High Moderate to low
Communication One-way Two-way communication
Brand Equity Gains a high brand equity Low (provided the activation is then advertise with ATL)
ROI Difficult to measure. Easier to measure as the response is direct.
Used by Big and established players Young or startups

Watch out for my next post on Through The Line advertising and how you can benefit from it. Do subscribe to my blog and feel free to share it.




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