In a month when we heard from the IAB that online advertising spend in the UK has topped the £4 billion mark for the first time, it seems appropriate to reflect on what has been a turbulent and a difficult few years for the advertising world. It seemed at one point back in 2007 that TV was in terminal decline and the future of all traditional media looked bleak.
But things are now brighter according to figures just released from the Advertising Association. Spending across all media grew by nearly 7 per cent to £15.2 billion in 2010 - its biggest increase since 2000. And TV enjoyed a higher rate of growth than online. But it is a fact that the online now accounts for a quarter of all ad spend in the UK.
All this seems a far cry from the days when the two most-used terms to describe marketing spend were “Above the Line” (ATL) and “Below the Line” (BTL).
According to Michael John Baker (author of “The Marketing Book”, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999), the term came into being in 1954 through Proctor and Gamble, where advertising agencies were paid differently from those who undertook promotional activities which were not classed as advertising. Thus marketers began to delineate promotion other than advertising as a separate marketing activity called “Below the Line Promotion”.
In a nutshell, ATL advertising was aimed at a mass audience and BTL promotions were targeted at individuals according to their needs or preferences. While ATL advertising was about establishing brand identity, BTL was about actually achieving a sale. ATL was also always difficult to measure, while BTL promotions were highly measurable. Direct marketing became a prime example of below the line promotion.
The line was always hypothetical and there was no truly defined boundary. However, around the time of the Millennium, another definition came along - “Through The Line”. This type of marketing referred to the activities that try to integrate both ATL and BTL.
Today, the boundaries are increasingly blurring between above and below the line and the struggle over which has precedence in an integrated world seems increasing irrelevant. For example, a viral video on YouTube which is watched by millions can be theoretically classified Below the Line. But it is reaching even more people than the traditional media like TV and print.
Used loosely, ATL still means mass media. However, with the advent and high growth of digital, the media landscape has shifted so much that most advertisers consider the traditional definitions irrelevant. The online world has already redefined media planning and continues to evolve.
Facebook’s decision to include relatively low-cost display ads on its pages has helped it to grow revenues by 27.5 per cent, according to the IAB. In fact, spending on social media advertising as a whole has grown by almost 200 per cent annually on a like-for-like basis.
While it’s still relatively small - at just 5 per cent of total ad spend at the moment - the growth rate indicates Facebook could eventually even possibly match Google’s display ad revenue.
So in conclusion, we can be sure that the pace of change will increase. And as Martin Hayward points out, in his look at how marketing communications might be in 2020 (“Marketing Communications towards 2020: Looking for meaning in a land of plenty”), that hypothetical line where some marketing activity was accounted for as above and some below the line - that will finally fade away.