What is the difference between ATL, BTL and TTL advertising?

A commonly asked question in the world of marketing is what is the difference between ‘Above the Line’, ‘Below the Line’, and ‘Through the Line’ Marketing?

Above the Line, or ATL Marketing, refers to generally untargeted, massive campaigns to raise brand awareness and reach more people; below the Line, or BTL Marketing, refers to the much smaller and highly targeted world of ads, aimed at individuals and with easy to track returns on investment and a definitive audience; and finally, through the Line, as you can imagine, uses both of these approaches to gain both widespread band awareness and focused, targeted returns.

We will now explore in more detail these types of marketing and the strategies they typically employ.

What is ‘the Line’ and where did it come from?

These definitions of approaches to marketing were first used in 1954 when Proctor and Gamble began paying different firms separately and at a different rate, for direct promotional activities and wider advertising campaigns, separating the two approaches. In this way, ‘the Line’ in marketing is that which separates direct, targeted campaigns from those more general and widespread aimed at brand awareness, and those with the presence or absence of direct results, and direct return on investments. There is cause to wonder if ‘the Line’ is now blurring, for instance the massive use of social media today and the wide exposure given means that advertising here should be ATL, though it can also be highly targeted (BTL) so is all social media TTL? One key is to consider intent. If you are offering a promotion or something that has a direct response element it cannot be ATL, while to be TTL the promotion should show but on a page that is not as targeted. We will go through the different approaches in more detail below.

Above the Line Marketing

ATL is the approach most used to build brand awareness and establish goodwill. They are widespread campaigns, largely untargeted and undertaken at a general level. A good example of an ATL Marketing approach is a national, or even a global TV ad campaign, where the same advert is shown across the country to people of all demographics. Instead of targeting the ad at specific people identified already as potential customers, the purpose of the ad is to broaden a brand’s horizons, reaching more people and establishing themselves more clearly and with a clear image. Other examples include print media and radio broadcasts which again reach a multitude of different people over a large area.

ATL is a good way to promote your brand, but it is difficult to measure the exact impact and return on investment. This is why it is more untargeted; the purpose is not to see a precise conversion rate but to make customers generally aware of your brand or product, and increase your visibility.

Below the Line Marketing

BTL, however, is used in the opposite way to ATL. Below the Line Marketing is aimed specifically at targeted individuals that have been identified as potential customers. Popular BTL strategies include outdoor advertising, such as bill boards and flyers, direct marketing, such as utilising email and social media, and sponsorship of events. The latter is particularly growing in popularity as giving a memorable experience to your potential customers makes your brand in turn more memorable, and people more disposed to it.

Unlike ATL, BTL is very focused on targeting specific ads to certain people, ensuring the content and location line up as clearly as possible with the intent of these potential customers. BTL also differs in that it is much more focused on return on investment (ROI), gaining user conversions and quantifying success. Instead of simply raising awareness of the brand, BTL is designed to ensure direct consumers for the product or brand, by focusing directly on the user and their wants. This form of marketing is usually easily quantifiable with the advantage of highly trackable results.

Through the Line Marketing

Finally, we come to Through the Line Marketing, or TTL. This approach combines that we have seen above, of ATL and BTL Marketing, to attempt to both raise brand awareness and target specific potential customers and convert these into measurable and quantifiable sales. One example of this is 360 degree marketing, where you not only have a national TV campaign but supplement this with targeted flyers and newspaper ads. Another is to use Digital Marketing, combining online banner ads with social media posts and blogs, for instance.

The clear benefit of a TTL approach is that you are attacking on two fronts, simultaneously improving general awareness and also aiming to increase traffic and sales. However, TTL is more expensive to use than either ATL or BTL alone. For this reason, it is normally utilised only by larger and more established companies with the money to back such a large approach.


So, what is the difference between ATL, BTL and TTL? Above the Line Marketing is largely untargeted, aimed at a large number of people in order to generally improve brand awareness and image, while finding it more difficult to quantify results and ROI. Below the Line Marketing is more specific to potential customers, targeting people with content that will speak to them and being much easier so see the impact it has. Through the Line Marketing involves combining both approaches to both target specific individuals and impact a greater number of people on a broader scale while giving measurable data on its impact, though costly and therefore usually used by financially secure companies.

These types of marketing have their own pros and cons and are better suited to different companies and their needs at different times. To be sure of which is the best for you, take the time to think about what the needs of your brand truly are, and if you need any further assistance with this, we are happy to help guide you to the type of marketing that is right for you!

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