Once a product has been developed, marketers carry out promotional activities in two ways. The product is either advertised as a whole for the entire market, or a focused approach is developed for a selected group of consumers. These two approaches are classified into two different groups, which are known as above the line (ATL) and below the line (BTL) marketing.

In this article, we will elaborate on the two methods and describe the differences between them.

Definitions and explanations

Above the line (ATL) marketing

Above the line (ATL) marketing makes use of traditional marketing strategies to reach a wide group of consumers. It has the objective of providing key information about the product or brand to the customers. This form of marketing does not concentrate on a specific target market; rather, the communication is focused on the mass market.

ATL strategies are used by companies to reinforce a product/brand and enhance its visibility in the market so as to compel the customers to actively seek the product in the market. The language and message used for communication is such that it is easy for the customers to understand and relate to.

ATL marketing activities include non-focused advertising activities with an extensive reach so as to develop a brand image. The main objective of using ATL strategies is to increase the awareness of customers about the product offerings and to encourage sales.

ATL strategies can be carried out using mass media channels like television, radio, print media and the Internet.

Below the line (BTL) marketing

Below the line marketing, also referred to as BTL marketing, comprises of more directed and focused activities that cater to a certain group of customers. These marketing activities are targeted on a particular market, and the promotional campaigns are developed according to the psychographic and demographic qualities of the selected customer groups.

The objective of BTL marketing is to develop focused relationships between the marketer and the ultimate consumer. BTL marketing is a contemporary approach that is performed at a micro-level as it concentrates on a particular demographic or geographic group based on a niche segment. The communication used involves directed and catchy messages put forward to promote the product.

The BTL strategy mainly concentrates on converting leads to customers. It involves different activities, such as sales promotion, direct mail, public relations, gift vouchers, SMS marketing, telemarketing, social media marketing, trade shows, exhibitions, catalogues, etc. One of the most significant benefits of BTL marketing is that it is possible to keep track of its outcomes. Furthermore, it is possible to customize the marketing campaigns according to the different kinds of consumer segments. BTL marketing is most appropriate for niche target markets.

Difference between ATL marketing and BTL marketing

The key points of difference between ATL marketing and BTL marketing are listed below:

1. Meaning

Above the line (ATL) marketing is a promotional activity carried out for the mass market with the objective of generating brand awareness. Below the line (BTL) marketing, on the other hand, is a promotional activity that is targeted towards a specific group of customers with the objective of directly interacting with the targeted group.

2. Target audience

ATL marketing concentrates on a wide audience, with the promotional activities aiming to reach a mass audience. On the contrary, the focus of BTL marketing is on a particular area or a particular group of customers.

3. Objective

The objective of ATL marketing is to create visibility of the brand and increase brand awareness, while BTL marketing has the objective of gaining conversions.

4. Mediums used

High reach mediums are used in ATL marketing, which include television, print media, radio and the internet so as to present the brand and its related products to a wide range of audience. In BTL marketing, however, more direct advertising mediums are used, which include direct mails, telemarketing, public relations, sponsorships, etc. so as to reach a focused group of consumers.

5. Aim

The aim of ATL marketing is to provide basic information about the product to the customer so as to compel a customer to actively seek a product, i.e. it aims to drive a customer response. In contrast, BTL marketing aims to develop direct relationships between the company and customer

6. Cost

ATL marketing is most costly compared to BTL marketing.

7. Measuring outcomes

It is not easy to measure the outcomes of ATL marketing because it is quite challenging to determine the increased sales brought about by mass advertising campaigns. However, it is possible to measure the outcomes of BTL marketing because the results of a focused campaign can be ascertained.

8. Communication

There is one-way communication in ATL marketing, with a generic message being put forward in the market. The communication in BTL marketing is, however, a two-way process, which creates a strong relationship between the marketer and the customer.

ATL marketing vs BTL marketing – tabular comparison

A comparison of ATL marketing and BTL marketing in tabular form is given below:

ATL marketing vs BTL marketing
A promotional campaign carried out to reach a mass market so as to make the brand visible in the market A promotional campaign that targets a specific group of customers so as to form direct relationships with them
Target audience
Mass market Focused group
Increase brand awareness Convert leads to customers
Mediums used
High reach mediums, i.e. television, print media, radio, internet Direct advertisement mediums used, i.e. direct mails, telemarketing, sponsorships.
Bring about a consumer response Establish direct relationships with the customers
More expensive than BTL marketing Less expensive than ATL marketing
Measuring outcomes
Difficult to measure outcomes Outcomes can be measured
One-way Two-way

Conclusion – ATL marketing vs BTL marketing

To sum up, it can be asserted that ATL marketing is a significant brand-building activity which concentrates on an undifferentiated market segment. However, BTL marketing is a highly focused and directed marketing activity that emphasizes on differentiation of the target market and conversions.

The present-day world is going through consistent and rapid developments in communication technology, which is why the use of ATL and BTL seems to be a bit outdated. The boundaries between ATL and BTL are being affected by digital communication. A new approach, known as the “through the line (TTL) integrated approach” has emerged that has linked the two approaches. TTL is essentially an integrated strategy that involves both ATL and BTL strategies. The purpose of TTL is to obtain a holistic picture of the market and to interact with customers in any way possible. This approach is being used more extensively now as it increases brand visibility as well as brand recall.